'..*, ? ;
CONHELL, EVAN S.
ALSO BY EVAN S. CONNELL, JR.
The Anatomy Lesson and other stories
BY EVAN S. CONNELL, JR
NEW YORK The Viking Press MCMLIX
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COPYRIGHT @ 1959 BY EVAN S. CONNELL, JR.
PUBLISHED IN 1959 BY
THE VIKING PRESS, INC.
625 MADISON AVENUE, NEW YORK 22, N.Y.
PUBLISHED IN CANADA BY
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY OF CANADA LIMITED
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER: 59-5650
A portion of the text appeared in The Paris Review
under the title "The Beau Monde of Mrs. Bridge."
P N B
SET IN THE BASKERVILLE TYPE FACE AND
PRINTED IN THE U.S.A. BY VAIL-BALLOU PRESS, INC.
BARBARA AND MATTHEW ZIMMERMANN
But where is what I started for so long ago?
And why is it jet unfound?
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Love and Marriage
Her first name was India she was never able to get used to it.
It seemed to her that her parents must have been thinking of
someone else when they named her. Or were they hoping for
another sort of daughter? As a child she was often on the point
of inquiring, but time passed, and she never did.
Now and then while she was growing up the idea came to
her that she could get along very nicely without a husband,
and, to the distress of her mother and father, this idea pre-
vailed for a number of years after her education had been
completed. But there came a summer evening and a young
lawyer named Walter Bridge: very tall and dignified, red-
haired, with a grimly determined, intelligent face, and rather
stoop-shouldered so that even when he stood erect his coat
hung lower in the front than in the back. She had known him
for several years without finding him remarkable in any way,
but on this summer evening, on the front porch of her parents'
home, she toyed with a sprig of mint and looked at him atten-
tively while pretending to listen to what he said. He was tell-
ing her that he intended to become rich and successful, and
that one day he would take his wife "whenever I finally de-
cide to marry" he said, for he was not yet ready to commit him-
self one day he would take his wife on a tour of Europe. He
spoke of Ruskin and of Robert Ingersoll, and he read to her
that evening on the porch, later, some verses from The
Rubdiydt while her parents were preparing for bed, and the
locusts sang in the elm trees all around.
10 #> Mrs. Bridge
A few months after her father died she married Walter
Bridge and moved with him to Kansas City, where he had
decided to establish a practice.
All seemed well. The days passed, and the weeks, and the
months, more swiftly than in childhood, and she felt no
trepidation, except for certain moments in the depth of the
night when, as she and her new husband lay drowsily clutch-
ing each other for reassurance, anticipating the dawn, the day,
and another night which might prove them both immortal,
Mrs. Bridge found herself wide awake. During these mo-
ments, resting in her husband's arms, she would stare at the
ceiling, or at his face, which sleep robbed of strength, with an
uneasy expression, as though she saw or heard some intima-
tion of the great years ahead.
She was not certain what she wanted from life, or what to
expect from it, for she had seen so little of it, but she was sure
that in some way because she willed it to be so her wants
and her expectations were the same.
For a while after their marriage she was in such demand
that it was not unpleasant when he fell asleep. Presently,
however, he began sleeping all night, and it was then she
awoke more frequently, and looked into the darkness, won-
dering about the nature of men, doubtful of the future, until
at last there came a night when she shook her husband awake
and spoke of her own desire. Affably he placed one of his long
white arms around her waist; she turned to him then, con-
tentedly, expectantly, and secure. However nothing else
occurred, and in a few minutes he had gone back to sleep.
This was the night Mrs. Bridge concluded that while mar-
riage might be an equitable affair, love itself was not.
Mrs. Bridge * 11
Their first child, a girl, curiously dark, who seldom cried and
who often seemed to want nothing more than to be left alone,
was born when they had been married a little more than three
years. They named her Ruth. After the delivery Mrs. Bridge's
first coherent words were, "Is she normal?"
Two years later Mrs. Bridge was then thirty-one Carolyn
appeared, about a month ahead of time, as though she were
quite able to take care of herself, and was nicknamed "Corky."
She was a chubby blonde, blue-eyed like her mother, more
ebullient than Ruth, and more demanding.
Then, two years after Carolyn, a stern little boy was bom,
thin and red-haired like his father, and they named him
Douglas. They had not wanted more than two children, but
because the first two had been girls they had decided to try
once more. Even if the third had also been a girl they would
have let it go at that; there would have been no sense in con-
tinuing what would soon become amusing to other people.
12 * Mrs. Bridge
She brought up her children very much as she herself had
been brought up, and she hoped that when they were spoken
of it would be in connection with their nice manners, their
pleasant dispositions, and their cleanliness, for these were
qualities she valued above all others.
With Ruth and later with Carolyn, because they were girls,
she felt sure of her guidance; but with the boy she was at
times obliged to guess and to hope, and as it turned out not
only with Douglas but with his two sisters what she stressed
was not at all what they remembered as they grew older.
What Ruth was to recall most vividly about childhood was
an incident which Mrs. Bridge had virtually forgotten an
hour after it occurred. One summer afternoon the entire
family, with the exception of Mr, Bridge who was working,
had gone to the neighborhood swimming pool; Douglas lay
on a rubber sheet in the shade of an umbrella, kicking his
thin bowed legs and gurgling, and Carolyn was splashing
around in the wading pool. The day was exceptionally hot.
Ruth took off her bathing suit and began walking across the
terrace. This much she could hardly remember, but she was
never to forget what happened next. Mrs. Bridge, having
suddenly discovered Ruth was naked, snatched up the bathing
suit and hurried after her. Ruth began to run, and being wet
and slippery she squirmed out of the arms that reached for
Mrs. Bridge -& 13
her from every direction. She thought it was a new game. Then
she noticed the expression on her mother's face. Ruth became
bewildered and then alarmed, and when she was finally caught
she was screaming hysterically.
Her husband was as astute as he was energetic, and because he
wanted so much for his family he went to his office quite early
in the morning while most men were still asleep and he often
stayed there working until late at night. He worked all day
Saturday and part of Sunday, and holidays were nothing but a
nuisance. Before very long the word had gone around that
Walter Bridge was the man to handle the case.
The family saw very little of him. It was not unusual for an
entire week to pass without any of the children seeing him.
On Sunday morning they would come downstairs and he
might be at the breakfast table; he greeted them pleasantly
and they responded deferentially, and a little wistfully because
they missed him. Sensing this, he would redouble his efforts at
the office in order to give them everything they wanted.
Consequently they were able to move to a large home just
off Ward Parkway several years sooner than they had expected,
and because the house was so large they employed a young
colored girl named Harriet to do the cooking and cleaning.
One morning at the breakfast table Carolyn said petulantly,
*Tm sick and tired of orange marmalade!"
14 * Mrs. Bridge
Mrs. Bridge, who was mashing an egg for her, replied pa-
tiently, "Now, Corky, just remember there are lots and lots of
little girls in the world who don't have any marmalade at all."
That there should be those who had marmalade, and those
who did not, was a condition that appealed to Carolyn. She
looked forward to Christmas, at which time the newspaper
printed a list of the one hundred neediest families in Kansas
City. Every year Mrs. Bridge adopted one of these families,
seeing to it that they had a nice holiday, and Carolyn now
took a definite interest in this annual project. Each needy
family was described in the paper how many children, how
old, what they needed particularly, and so forth and Carolyn
helped her mother decide which family they should adopt.
Ruth and Douglas did not seem to care very much.
A bushel basket, or perhaps two, would be filled with
canned goods, possibly some clothing, and whatever else the
poor family could obviously use a smoked ham, a bag of
flour, a bag of salt and the basket would then be topped
with candy canes and a paper angel or a Santa Glaus, and the
edges trimmed with scallops of red and green crepe. Then on
the day before Christmas Mrs. Bridge and the children would
deliver the basket to the address furnished by the newspaper.
During the preparations Mrs. Bridge would sometimes ask
the children if they could remember the family they had
Mrs. Bridge #15
adopted last year. Ruth, being the oldest, usually could, but
it was always Carolyn who could describe most sharply the
details of poverty.
Douglas, possibly because he was so young or so Mrs.
Bridge reasoned did not enjoy these trips. Each Christmas
when he saw the basket being filled and trimmed he grew
restless and obstinate; she did not know why, nor could she get
him to explain. He did not want to go, that was clear, but she
wanted him to appreciate his own good fortune, and not to
grow up thinking he was better than someone else, so she
insisted he go along to visit the poor family; he would ride
in the back seat of the Reo with one arm resting on top of the
Christmas basket, and he never said a word from the moment
the trip started until they were home again. But he, like Ruth,
remembered. This was why he hated to go. He could remem-
ber the very first visit. He had been just three years old when
he first joined his sisters on the annual expedition to the
north end of the city had it been to Strawberry Hill, where
he had expected to see a bowl of strawberries on top of the
hill? no matter, he remembered how he had been sitting in
the back of the Reo when the door was opened and a man
leaned in and took the basket away. Then, while the door was
still open and snowflakes were falling on his knees, someone
else leaned in he could not remember whether it was a man
or a woman and quickly, neatly touched the cushion of
Although many years were to pass before Douglas could
understand why someone had wanted to touch the cushion,
or why the memory of that gesture should persist, each Christ-
mas thereafter when he saw the basket being filled and
trimmed he grew restless and obstinate.
i6# Mrs, Bridge
Dummy in the Attic
On a winter morning not long after one of these excursions
Mrs. Bridge happened to come upon Douglas in the sewing
room; he was standing quietly with his hands clasped behind
his back and his head bent slightly to one side. So adult did
he look in the depth of his meditation that she could not resist
smiling. Then she saw that he was staring at the dummy of her
figure. She had kept the dummy there near the sewing ma-
chine for a long time and had supposed that no one in the
family paid any attention to it, but after this particular day
unless she was using it to make herself a dress the dummy
stood behind an up-ended trunk in the attic.
That summer Carolyn began playing with Alice Jones, the
daughter of the colored gardener who worked next door.
Mrs. Bridge * 17
Every Saturday morning he would appear from the direction
of the streetcar line, his daughter Alice capering wildly
around him. As soon as they came in sight of the Bridges'
house she would rush ahead, pigtails flying. In a minute she
would be at the back door, pressing the bell with both hands.
Often Mrs. Bridge would be in the kitchen polishing silver
or planning the week-end menu while Harriet did the heavy
cleaning somewhere else in the house, so Mrs. Bridge would
answer the door.
Alice Jones was always out of breath from the run and her
eyes were shining with expectation as she inquired if Corky
could come out and play.
"Why, I think she can/* Mrs. Bridge would say, and smile.
"Providing you two behave yourselves/* About this time the
gardener would come walking up the neighbor's driveway and
she would say through the screen door, "Good morning,
"Mornin r , Mrs. Bridge/' he always answered. "That child
bothering you all?"
"Not a bit! We love having her/*
By this time Carolyn would appear and the two children
would begin their day. In spite of Carolyn's excellence at
school she was not very imaginative, and no matter what she
suggested they do that day Alice Jones had a better idea.
Carolyn was a little stunned by some of the suggestions, and
for a few minutes would grow petulant and arrogant, but
when she found that Alice could not be intimidated she gave
way and enjoyed herself.
One morning they decided to take apart the radio-phono-
graph and talk to the little people inside the cabinet; another
morning they made sandwiches and filled a Thermos jug with
milk because they planned to leave on a trip to Cedar Rabbits,
Iowa. Again, they composed a long cheerful letter to Sears,
Roebuck & Co. in which Alice told how she murdered people.
Some Saturdays they would stage extremely dramatic plays
1 8 * Mrs. Bridge
which went on for hours with time out for other games
the leading part always being taken by Alice Jones because,
at her grade school in the north end of the city, she was in-
variably the Snow Queen or the Good Fairy or some other
personage of equal distinction. Carolyn, whose stage experi-
ence had been limited to a Thanksgiving skit in which she
had been an onion, seldom objected and in fact had some
difficulty keeping up with the plot.
Long before noon they were at the back door, wanting to
know if it was not yet lunchtime, and when at last Harriet, or
perhaps Mrs. Bridge, set up the breakfast-room table for them
they would turn on the radio so that during lunch they might
listen to the livestock reports, which Alice Jones found hilar-
One day a fire truck went by the house and Alice, wagging
her head in amazement, exclaimed, "There they go again!
Who they going to burn down this time?" Dismayed by the
wickedness of the firemen, she rolled her eyes and sighed and
helped herself to more caramel pudding.
Mrs. Bridge, who was making up a grocery list, paused and
smiled affectionately at both children, pleased that Carolyn
was not conscious of the difference between them.
Alice and her father appeared every Saturday, and the two
children, occasionally joined by Ruth who more often spent
the day lying on the porch swing would play together as
comfortably as on the first Saturday they met. The gardener
never failed to ask Mrs. Bridge if Alice was a nuisance; Mrs.
Bridge always smiled and assured him she was not.
For a month each summer the Bridges went to Colorado;
they hired Jones for this month to water the grass after he had
finished working for the neighbors, and so Alice amused her-
self on the familiar grounds and frequently asked her father
how soon Corky would be back.
"Soon enough," was his usual reply, but one day he paused,
Mrs. Bridge * ig
and as if considering the future, he told her, cryptically and
a little sadly, "She liable to not come back, child/'
But at last the vacation ended and Carolyn returned, full
of sunshine and sophistication.
"The mountains are awfully big/' she said primly, and,
echoing her mother, "It was just grand."
Then Alice Jones said, "You know what I got in this here
Carolyn, reluctant to become once more the planet instead
of the star, affected disdain.
"Who cares?" she announced, coolly turning away.
"A human gizzard," murmured Alice with a mysterious
expression, and before much longer Carolyn was convinced a
summer in Kansas City would have been much more exciting
than the mountains. She said as much to her mother, who re-
plied a trifle brusquely, being harried at the moment, "Don't
be silly, dear." And Mrs. Bridge was about to add that there
must be other girls besides Alice to play with, but she did not
say this; she hesitated, and said, "Corky, you know perfectly
well you enjoyed Colorado." Soon, she knew, the girls would
drift apart. Time would take care of the situation.
Who Can Find the Caspian Sea?
As time went on it became evident that Douglas was the most
introspective of the three children, but aside from this to his
father's disappointment he appeared to be totally unremark-
20 # Mrs. Bridge
able. Mr. Bridge had hoped for a brilliant son, and though he
had not yet given up that hope he was reluctantly adapting
himself to the idea that his son was no prodigy. If Douglas
amounted to anything in later life, he concluded, it would be
less the result of brilliance than of conscientious effort.
Ruth, even more obviously, had no intention of relying on
her brains; but Carolyn, as soon as she entered kindergarten,
began to make a name for herself, and very shortly was known
as the brightest child in the class. Furthermore she appeared
to understand her own superiority and when, through some
mischance, another child equaled or exceeded her for a mo-
ment, Carolyn would grow furiously vindictive, and was not
above lying or cheating in order to regain her position at the
head of the class, so that by the time she was in the third grade
she was beginning to be envied and disliked by her classmates
and carefully observed by her teachers. It was no surprise to
anyone when she was allowed to skip the second half of the
The teacher of Carolyn's fourth-grade class was a young
lame woman named Bloch, who wore eye shadow and mascara
and had one rather strange habit: every day she would call
one of the children to her desk, give the child a comb, and
then, bowing her head and shutting her eyes, she would in-
struct the child to take the pins out of her hair. Her hair was
thick and greasy and hung down to her waist.
"Who can find the Caspian Sea?" she would murmur, and
the child behind her would begin combing.
"Who knows where to find the Caspian Sea?" she would
ask again, and without opening her eyes she would say, "Al-
bert Crawford knows."
Then the boy she had named would walk to the great green
and blue map pulled down over the blackboard, and with the
pointer he would locate the sea.
"Carefully, dear," she would whisper if the comb snarled,
but even then she seemed not displeased.
Mrs. Bridge * 21
Although the children did not like this curious task they
seldom thought of it once they were out of class. Carolyn,
however, happened to mention at home that she had been
chosen that morning. Mrs. Bridge was aghast; she had never
heard of Miss Bloch's habit. After questioning Carolyn and
becoming convinced it was the truth, she resolved to telephone
the school and report the incident to the principal, and yet,
for some reason, she could not do it. Several times she picked
up the telephone, shivering with disgust, but each time she
put down the receiver with an expression of doubt and anx-
iety; she decided it would be better to visit the principal's
office, and yet this, too, was beyond her. She did not know why.
In the end she told Carolyn that if she was ever again called
upon to comb the teacher's hair she was to fefuse. Having
done this, Mrs. Bridge told herself the teacher was no longer a
threat and the entire affair, therefore, was closed. And so it
was. Carolyn was not called upon for the remainder of the
term, and the following September she had a different teacher.
There were times later on when Mrs. Bridge wondered if she
had done the right thing; she wondered if Miss Bloch was still
calling children to comb her hair, and when Douglas entered
fourth grade she waited anxiously to learn who his teacher
would be. It was not Miss Bloch; if it had been she would have
gone to the principal and demanded that something be done.
But it was not, and Mrs. Bridge, who disliked making trouble
for anyone, was greatly relieved, and found that she was no
longer obliged to think about the matter.
22 # Mrs. Bridge
O Ladies and Women
For semi-annual housecleaning Mrs. Bridge hired additional
help. Carolyn answered the back door and reported to her
mother, "The cleaning lady is here/'
"Oh, fine," Mrs. Bridge said, and put away her sewing
basket and went to the back door, smiling and saying genially,
"How do you do? Come right in, won't you?"
That evening she instructed Carolyn. "You should say the
cleaning 'woman/ A lady is someone like Mrs. Arlen or Mrs.
Mrs. Bridge said that she judged people by their shoes and
by their manners at the table. If someone wore shoes with run-
over heels, or shoes that had not been shined for a long time,
or shoes with broken laces, you could be pretty sure this person
would be slovenly in other things as well* And there was no
Mrs. Bridge * 23
better way to judge a person's background than by watching
him or her at the table.
The children learned it was impolite to talk while eating,
or to chew with the mouth open, and as they grew older they
learned the more subtle manners not to butter an entire
slice of bread, not to take more than one biscuit at a time,
unless, of course, the hostess should insist. They were taught
to keep their elbows close to their sides while cutting meat,
and to hold the utensils in the tips of their fingers. They re-
sisted the temptation to sop up the gravy with a piece of bread,
and they made sure to leave a little of everything not enough
to be called wasteful, but just a little to indicate the meal had
been sufficient. And, naturally, they learned that a lady or a
gentleman does not fold up a napkin after having eaten in a
The girls absorbed these matters with greater facility than
Douglas, who tended to ask the reason for everything, some-
times observing that he thought it was all pretty silly. He
seemed particularly unable to eat with his left hand lying in
his lap; he wanted to leave it on the table, to prop himself up,
as it were, and claimed he got a backache with one arm in his
lap. Mrs. Bridge told him this was absurd, and when he wanted
to know why he could not put his elbow on the table she
replied, "Do you want to be different from everyone else?"
Douglas was doubtful, but after a long silence, and under
the weight of his mother's tranquil gaze, he at last concluded
The American habit of switching implements, however,
continued to give him trouble and to make him rebellious.
With elaborate care he would put down the knife, reach high
across his plate and descend on the left side to pick up the
fork, raising it high over the plate again as he returned to the
"Now stop acting ridiculous," she told him one day at
24 * Mrs. Bridge
"Well, I sure bet the Egyptians don't have to eat this way/*
he muttered, giving "Egyptians" a vengeful emphasis.
"I doubt if they do/' she replied calmly, expertly cutting a
triangle of pineapple from her salad, "but you're not an
Egyptian. So you eat the way Americans eat, and that's final/*
Alice Jones Again
It seemed to Mrs. Bridge that Saturday came around quite
often. She was selecting some sugar buns from the bakery man
when Alice dashed up the driveway with a long piece of
clothesline in her hand, and the first thing that came to Mrs.
Bridge's mind was that the girl had stolen it.
"Good morning, Alice," she said. Alice dropped the clothes-
line on the back steps and ran directly into the house to find
Carolyn. A few minutes later the gardener appeared and
asked, as he always did, whether she was being a nuisance.
Mrs. Bridge smiled briefly and shook her head, not knowing
how to be truthful without hurting his feelings.
The children were in Carolyn's room playing jacks. Mrs.
Bridge looked in on them after a while and asked why they
didn't play out of doors, the day being so nice, and she
thought but could not be sure that as she suggested this the
little Negro girl gave her a rather strange look. In any event
the suggestion appeared to take hold, because a few minutes
later she heard them outside shouting with laughter about
Mrs. Bridge * 25
Shortly before noon, while rearranging the handkerchiefs
in her husband's bureau, Mrs. Bridge heard Carolyn singing
at the top of her voice: "My mother, your mother, live across
the way, eighteen-sixteen East Broadway! Every night they
have a fight, and this is what they say " Here Alice Jones took
over the song: "Goddamn you, goddamn you, goddamn you,
goddamn you "
Mrs. Bridge rushed to the nearest window and looked
down. One end of the clothesline was tied to the rose trellis.
At the other end was Carolyn, churning the rope with both
arms, and in the center was Alice leaping up and down.
Next week, when Alice came racing up the driveway and
tried to open the screen door to the kitchen, she found it
locked. Mrs. Bridge was in the kitchen and said, "Who is it,
"It's me," replied Alice, rattling the door.
"Just a minute, Alice. Ill see if Carolyn is at home," She
went into the living room and found her daughter looking at
one of the movie magazines that Ruth had begun buying.
"Alice is here again. Ill tell her you're busy."
But at the first word Carolyn had jumped up and started for
the back door.
About ten o'clock both of them came into the kitchen for
a bottle of soda pop and wanted to know what there would be
"Corky is having creamed tuna on toast and spinach," said
Mrs. Bridge pleasantly.
Alice observed that she herself didn't care for spinach be-
cause it was made of old tea bags.
"I believe you're supposed to have lunch with your Daddy,
Alice heard a note in her voice which Carolyn did not; she
glanced up at Mrs. Bridge with another of those queer, bright
looks and after a moment of thought she said, "Yes'nu"
26 # Mrs. Bridge
The Van Metres were no more Egyptian than Douglas was,
but in a sense they were quite foreign to Mrs. Bridge. She
thought them very odd. The Van Metres, Wilhelni and
Susan, were about fifteen years older than the Bridges; they
were rather pompous particularly Wilhelm and they were
given to reading literary magazines no one had ever heard of
and attending such things as ballet or opera whenever a com-
pany stopped in Kansas City. Mrs. Bridge could not quite re-
call how she and her husband became acquainted with the
Van Metres, or how they got into the habit of exchanging
dinners once in a while. Nevertheless this situation had de-
veloped and Mrs. Bridge was sure it was as awkward for the
Van Metres as it was for them each couple felt obligated to
return the other's hospitality.
On those occasions when the Van Metres were hosts they
drove over to the east side of the city to a country club that
had gone out of fashion ten years before. Wilhelm Van Metre
never drove faster than about fifteen miles an hour, and he
sat erect and tense with both hands firmly on the wheel as
though expecting a fearful crash at any instant. He came to a
dead stop at almost every intersection, ceased talking, and ex-
amined the street in both directions. Then, unless his wife
had something to say, he would proceed, the result of all this
being that they seldom reached the club before nine o'clock.
Once there he would drive the old automobile cautiously
Mrs. Bridge * 27
around the circular gravel drive and switch off the engine at
the front entrance.
"Ladies/* he would say, suggestively, in his rumbling and
pontifical monotone, whereupon Mrs. Bridge and Mrs. Van
Metre got out and walked up the steps to the club. He did not
start the engine again until he had seen them pass safely into
the clubhouse; then, driving in low gear, he went on around
the gravel circle to the parking lot.
"I see there are no other autos this evening, Walter/' he
said. "I wonder where everyone can be."
Mr. Bridge, already bored and thinking of an important
case at the office, made no attempt to answer.
The women were waiting for them in the deserted lobby.
"It seems/' Van Metre chuckled, "we have the place to our-
selves this evening."
"I do get so sick of crowds sometimes/* Mrs. Bridge an-
The four of them began to walk along the corridor toward
the rear of the building, where the dining room was. There
was a series of rugs along the length of the corridor so that
they would be walking in silence, then on the hardwood floor,
then in silence, and so on. Whenever their heels struck the
floor the noise echoed ahead of them and behind them as
though they were being preceded and followed.
When the silence became unbearable Mrs. Bridge looked
over her shoulder, smiling, and said, "Everyone says the chef
here is the best in the city/*
"We feel he's competent/* said Wilhelm Van Metre, who
was walking directly behind her with his head slightly bowed.
On they went, two by two, down the long corridor. Small
tables of various shapes had been set against the wall at inter-
vals in a desperate attempt to conceal the length of the corri-
dor. On one of the tables was a wreath, on another was an
unlighted candle, on another was a silver bowl, another held
a telephone book in a gray leather binding. There were half a
28 * Mrs. Bridge
dozen mirrors along the wall. Mrs. Bridge did not dare look
into any of the mirrors, and as the four of them marched along
she wondered if she was about to lose control of herself. Where
are we going? she thought. Why are we here?
"What lovely tables/' she said.
Van Metre cleared his throat. "Tables are appropriate
"We really should get together more often/' she said.
"Yes. Susan and I often say, 'We really should stop by to
visit Walter and India/ "
Finally they came to the frosted glass doors of the dining
"Ladies/' Van Metre said, holding open the door.
There were two people in the dining room.
"Susan, I believe that's young Blackburn over there with his
"He must be home from the university/'
"I believe I'll go speak to them. Walter and India, I'm cer-
tain you will excuse me." He walked slowly across the dining
room, said something to them, and they looked around at Mr.
and Mrs. Bridge.
In a few minutes he returned, rubbing his hands. "Now,
let's have a look. Which table shall we sit at? Anyone feeling
"I don't think it makes a bit of difference," said Mrs. Bridge.
All the tables had been set. There was a candle burning on
each table as though a great crowd of people was expected.
"As you probably know, the club was designed by Cran-
Mrs. Bridge had never heard of this architect, but she
thought his tone implied she should have. "Let me think," she
said, touching her cheek, "is he the City Hall man? I really
should know, of course. His name is so familiar/'
Van Metre turned to stare at her. He smiled bleakly. "I'm
afraid Crandall is not the City Hall man, India. No, I'm afraid
Mrs. Bridge * 29
not/* After a pause he said, "In what connection have you
heard of him?"
"He was mixed up in that USHA mess," said Mr. Bridge
"You're correct about that, Walter," Van Metre said, "al-
though that was hardly what I had in mind. Crandall also
designed the famous Penfield house/' He studied the empty
tables, deliberated, and selected one, saying with a courtly
gesture, "And now, ladies, if you will."
They seated themselves around an oval table in front of
some French doors that opened onto the terrace. They could
see a flood-lighted, empty swimming pool, a number of
canvas-backed chairs, the flagpole, and a winding gravel path
lined with white-washed rocks. In the distance above the dark
wall formed by the trees, the sky was suffused with a chill pink
color from the downtown lights of the city.
"What a lovely view," Mrs. Bridge exclaimed.
"I'm afraid you're being kind," Van Metre said, unfolding
his napkin. "There isn't much to look at." He began to frown
in the direction of the kitchen.
"I do think the pool looks awfully nice with the lights on it
"Those rocks are absurd," said Susan Van Metre.
"Well, most places they would be a little too-too, but don't
you think they look nice out here in the country? They seem
to give such a homey touch."
"The club isn't precisely in the country, India," Van Metre
said, and cleared his throat. Then he turned around in his
chair and again frowned at the kitchen. "I am commencing to
wonder if we have a waiter this evening,"
"We're certainly in no hurry," said Mrs. Bridge.
Van Metre snapped his fingers, at which the father and son
looked across the room.
"Don't we have any service?'* Van Metre called with a note
go * Mrs. Bridge
The father spoke to his son, who got up and walked to the
swinging doors, pushed halfway through, and apparently
spoke to someone in the kitchen. Presently a Filipino waiter
came out with a napkin folded over one arm.
"What do you recommend this evening?*' Van Metre asked
The waiter said the roast beef was especially nice.
"How does that sound? India? Walter? Susan? Roast beef,
"Grand," said Mrs. Bridge.
"Four roast beeves/' said Van Metre, and chuckled. "It
sounds as though I'm ordering four beeves. Entire animals."
He took a sip of water, removed his glasses, and while exam-
ining them against the light he said, "Possibly I have told you
of my experience in Illinois last summer on the way home
from my annual fishing trip."
"Why, no, I don't believe you have," Mrs. Bridge said at-
tentively. "What happened?"
"I went fishing with Andrew Stoner," he said, and lifted
his bushy white eyebrows in what appeared to be an inquiring
Mrs. Bridge thought quickly. "Stoner Dry Goods?"
"No, no," he chuckled. "I should say not! Stoner Dry Goods,
my Lord, no!" He continued to chuckle while he put on his
glasses, and Mrs. Bridge noticed with a slight feeling of dis-
comfort that the hair of his eyebrows actually touched his
"I've met that fellow/' he was saying. "No, India, not
Stoner Dry Goods, not by a damn sight, no sir. Andrew
Stoner, not John Stoner. My man is in the winter-wheat busi-
ness. In fact, I expect you've met him."
"A rather short man with quite an attractive wife?"
"You're probably thinking of Dr. Max Hamm. He wears
gold-rimmed glasses and speaks with a German accent."
"Oh well, I don't believe I know the Stoners."
Mrs. Bridge * 31
"I'm sure you must have met him somewhere."
"Oh, I'm sure of it. I'm terrible about names."
"However, you may not have met him/' Van Metre
thoughtfully rubbed his chin and took another sip of water.
"I believe, now that I think of it, Andrew's wife died before
you moved into the neighborhood. Andrew went away for
several years." He turned the water pitcher around; appar-
ently he was inspecting the design etched into it. "At any rate,
we were returning from our annual fishing expedition when
we had occasion to put up for the night at a small hotel in
Illinois. It was in the town of Gilman, as I recall. Not too far
from Peoria." His expression was Inquiring again.
"I don't believe IVe ever been there. It must be nice."
Van Metre put the napkin to his mouth and coughed. Then
he continued. "Well, India, I shouldn't care to live there.
However, Andrew and I did stop there overnight, although at
this moment I am unable to recall our reasoning. It was a
mistake, you may be sure of that."
"Well, I wouldn't say it was quite that bad."
"I didn't mean that exactly, it's just that those little farming
towns can be awfully depressing."
"I wouldn't call Gilman a farming town."
"Oh, I didn't mean that it was."
"It's quite a little city. Good bit of industry there. In fact,
Gilman may have quite a future."
"Is that so? I suppose it is altogether different than I im-
Wilhelm Van Metre stared at the tablecloth for a while, as
though something had annoyed him.
"We stopped there overnight. We got a room in the hotel,
not a bad room, though small, and as we were walking down-
stairs for supper Andrew said, 'Wilhelm, how about a drink?'
Well, India and Walter, I said, 'That sounds like a good idea,
Andrew. Let's have a drink/ We decided to have a martini.
2 * Mrs. Bridge
I've forgotten just why. We didn't know if the bartender in
that little hotel even knew what a martini was, but we decided
we would try him out/'
Mrs. Bridge, thinking the story was about a terrible martini,
said, "That certainly was taking a chance/'
"Well sir/' Van Metre said, leaning back in his chair and
all at once slapping the table, "that martini was the finest I
"What a surprise that must have been!"
The waiter was coming across the floor trundling a cart with
the roast beef under a large silver bell. After he had served
them and refilled their water glasses he returned to the
kitchen. They began to eat.
"This beef isn't quite done," Van Metre observed*
Mrs. Bridge said it was just the way she liked it.
Boys, as everyone knew, were more trouble than girls, but to
Mrs. Bridge it began to seem that Douglas was more trouble
than both the girls together. Ruth, silent Ruth, was no trouble
at all; Mrs. Bridge sometimes grew uneasy over this very fact,
because it was slightly unnatural. Carolyn made up for Ruth,
what with temper tantrums and fits of selfishness, but she was
nothing compared to Douglas, who, strangely enough, never
actually appeared to be attempting to make trouble; it was
just that somehow he was trouble. Invariably there was some-
thing about him that needed to be corrected or attended to,
Mrs. Bridge * 33
though he himself was totally oblivious to this fact, or, if he
was aware of it, was unconcerned. Whenever she encountered
him he was either hungry, or dirty, or late, or needed a haircut,
or had outgrown something, or had a nosebleed, or had just
cut himself, or had lost something, or was just generally ragged
and grimy looking. Mrs. Bridge could not understand it. She
could take him down to the Plaza for a new pair of corduroy
knickers and a week later he had worn a hole through the
knee. He was invariably surprised and a little pained by her
dismay; he felt fine what else mattered?
He was hostile to guest towels. She knew this, but, because
guest towels were no concern of his, there had never been any
direct conflict over them. She had a supply of Margab, which
were the best, at least in the opinion of everyone she knew,
and whenever guests were coming to the house she would put
the ordinary towels in the laundry and place several of these
little pastel towels in each of the bathrooms. They were quite
small, not much larger than a handkerchief, and no one ever
touched them. After the visitors had gone home she would
carefully lift them from the rack and replace them in the box
till next time. Nobody touched them because they looked too
nice; guests always did as she herself did in their homes she
would dry her hands on a piece of Kleenex.
One afternoon after a luncheon she went around the house
collecting the guest towels as usual, and was very much sur-
prised to find that one of the towels in Douglas's bathroom had
been used. It was, in fact, filthy. There was no question about
who had used this towel. She found Douglas sitting in a tree in
the vacant lot. He was not doing anything as far as she could
tell; he was just up in the tree. Mrs. Bridge approached the
tree and asked him about the towel. She held it up. He gazed
down at it with a thoughtful expression. Yes, he had dried
his hands on it.
"These towels are for guests," said Mrs. Bridge, and felt
herself unaccountably on the verge of tears.
34 * Mrs. Bridge
"Well, why don't they use them then?" asked Douglas. He
began to gaze over the rooftops.
"Come down here where I can talk to you. I don't like shout-
ing at the top of my lungs/'
"I can hear you okay," said Douglas, climbing a little higher.
Mrs. Bridge found herself getting furious with him, and was
annoyed with herself because it was all really so trivial. Be-
sides, she had begun to feel rather foolish standing under a
tree waving a towel and addressing someone who was probably
invisible to any of the neighbors who might be watching. All
she could see of him were his tennis shoes and one leg. Then,
too, she knew he was right, partly right in any event; even so,
when you had guests you put guest towels in the bathroom.
That was what everyone did, it was what she did, and it was
most definitely what she intended to continue doing.
"They always just use their handkerchief or something/*
said Douglas moodily from high above.
"Never mind/' said Mrs. Bridge. "From now on you leave
those towels alone/*
There was no answer from the tree.
"Do you hear me?"
"I hear you," said Douglas.
Late for Dinner
Not long after the battle of the guest towels he came in late
for dinner, and when asked for a suitable explanation he an-
nounced with no apparent concern, yet with a faint note of
Mrs. Bridge * 35
apology discernible in his tone as though he had let himself
be tricked, "I got depantsed."
"You what?" Mrs, Bridge exclaimed, clutching her napkin.
She and the girls were halfway through dinner, having decided
not to wait on him any longer. Mr. Bridge was not yet home
from the office.
Douglas stepped over the seat of his chair as if it were a
hurdle and sat down astraddle. This was a habit that exas-
perated his mother; he knew it and she knew he knew it.
"Why must you do that?" she asked. She was relieved he had
come home, but she could not help scolding now that she
knew he was safe.
"You know perfectly well what."
Every time they argued about the way he got into his chair
he proceeded to explain that he did it in order to save wear
and tear on the carpet. It was his theory that if he pulled out
the chair every time, it would soon wear a groove in the carpet,
and he was only trying to save things from wearing out because
she was always telling him not to be so hard on the furniture.
This was the way the argument went; it was quite familiar to
"Now," said Mrs. Bridge, settling the napkin in her lap
and beginning to butter a hot biscuit, "let's start all over
again." As soon as she said this she regretted it.
"They depantsed me," Douglas repeated cheerfully.
"What are you talking about?"
"They took my pants and threw them up on top of Gold-
"Who did?" she said, putting down the biscuit
Carolyn, who often imitated her mother, also stopped eat-
ing and assumed a severe expression. Ruth quietly went on
"Oh," said Douglas, "the guys. You know. Tim and Louie
and those guys."
36 * Mrs. Bridge
lt l don't know." He was not greatly Interested in the con-
versation. He began to help himself to everything on the table,
building a mound of food just high enough to exceed the
limits of good manners but not quite high enough to draw
fire from his mother. He was quite conscious, however, that
she was observing the size of the helpings.
"Well, for heaven's sake, they must have had a reason.
Hadn't you done something to provoke them?"
"Nope. We were just wrestling in the vacant lot sort of
gang piling, you know and I was on the bottom and then
just all of a sudden they decided to depants me, that's all." He
was ladling gravy onto his plate; he had built a semi-circular
dam out of mashed potatoes and was making the lake with
"Now that's enough, do you hear?"
With a pained expression he put down the gravy and began
looking around for something else.
"I simply can't understand why they would do a thing like
that," she went on, half to herself.
"They just felt like depantsing somebody, I guess," Douglas
went on obligingly, "and I was on the bottom, that's all. We
depantsed Eliot Hoff a couple of weeks ago and he yelled
bloody murder and cried all over the place."
"All right, all right, that'll do," said Mrs. Bridge. "I think
we've covered the situation."
"How did you get them back?" asked Carolyn.
"Oh, I just climbed the telephone pole and there's a big
cable that leads over to Shafer's garage, so after I got there I
just took a run and jumped across to Goldfarb's garage." He
was becoming voluble now. "Those garages look pretty close
together from this side of the fence, but when you get up there,
why, they're not, because I didn't think I was going to make
it. I was just up there like the man on the flying trapeze with-
out any pants and "
Mrs. Bridge * 37
"That will do!" Mrs. Bridge interrupted, looking him
firmly in the eye.
"Well, gee whiz"
"The subject is closed/*
"Okay, okay/* he muttered, and reached suddenly for the
On the fifteenth of each month there appeared in the south
side of Kansas City a magazine called The Tattler. It was very
thin sixteen pages of coated ivory stock but the format was
large: it was about half the size of a newspaper. The typog-
raphy, for reasons known only to the publisher, was in the
style of 1910. The Tattler was Kansas City's magazine of so-
ciety; it consisted of photographs of significant brides, of visit-
ing celebrities feted at the homes of wealthy Kansas Citians,
and pictures of subscribers, together with long lists of names
of those who had either given or attended social affairs during
the month. These lists of names were so long that it was found
advisable to break them up into paragraphs and from time to
time to insert a description of something anything that
was reasonably pertinent.
A typical entry:
Seen wolfing the delicious hors d'oeuvres at the charming
Lane Terrace residence of the Boh Brewers (she, n<e Nancy
Page of Santa Barbara, California) a week ago Tuesday-
38 # Mrs. Bridge
last were Humboldt Aupp, Jr., Buzz Duncan with his cap-
tivating guest from Dixie, Lola Anne Sharpe in a positively
stunning cardinal gown with net bodice; Nathalie Blakely,
Gordon A. Spencer III home with Yule tidings from Yale,
Jo Power with her sister-in-law from Gotham, Mrs. Andrew
Koeppel and hubby (he the newly appointed chairman of
the board of Koeppel, Koeppel & Ingle), the McKinney twins
indistinguishable in saffron except for Wendy's rhinestone
bracelet and Lt. Hal Graves, and last but far from least in
stunning shell pink taffeta aglow with sequins, Mrs. Albert
Tate fascinated by Mrs. Russ Arlen on the topic of Bermuda.
There followed a list of about thirty names, a description
of the rumpus room, and more names.
The Tattler mentioned Mrs. and Mrs. Bridge whenever
they were present at a major social function, and occasionally
took their picture. The most memorable photograph of Mrs.
Bridge was taken during a family vacation in Colorado. She
had always been rather fond of horses, and before her mar-
riage she used to go riding. In recent years, however, she had
not had much to do with horses, partly because she was grow-
ing stout and was apprehensive that from certain angles she
might not cut so sleek a figure in jodhpurs as she used to. In
fact, at the time this picture was taken, she had not been on a
horse for about ten years. The horse, unfortunately, had just
sneezed and its head was down between his knees; Mrs. Bridge,
her attention divided between the beast and the photog-
rapher, was leaning over its neck with a doubtful smile. The
caption read, "Mrs, Walter G. Bridge, holidaying with spouse
and young at Rocky Point Lodge, Estes Park, Colorado, likes
nothing better than a canter on the bridle paths."
Mrs. Bridge * 39
A Matter of Taste
At Christmas time The Tattler customarily published photo-
graphs o the lights in the Plaza shopping center and of various
homes in the country club district that were more than usually
decorative. There was a great deal of interest in Christmas
decorations; Mrs. Bridge very much enjoyed them, but at the
same time they presented her with a problem: if you did not
put up any decorations you were being conspicuous, and if you
put up too many you were being conspicuous. At the very
least there should be a large holly wreath on the front door;
at the most there might be half a dozen decorations visible,
including the Christmas tree. In her annual attempt to strike
the proper note she came to rely more and more on Carolyn,
who possessed, she thought, better judgment than either Ruth
or Douglas, although she was careful to keep this opinion to
Every year, then, the Bridges' home was festive without
being ostentatious. A strand of green lights was woven through
the branches of a small spruce tree near the front porch, and
there was a wreath in each of the first-floor windows and a large
wreath with a red ribbon and a cluster of bells attached to the
knocker of the front door. Inside, in a corner of the living
room away from the heat of the fireplace, stood the tree, its
topmost branches clipped or bent so as not to stain the ceiling,
and a bed sheet draped around the bottom in order to conceal
40 * Mrs. Bridge
the odd-looking metal device that held the tree upright. Pres-
ents were arranged on the sheet and a few small presents tied
to the limbs. There was tinsel on the tree, and there were
peppermint-candy canes and popcorn balls and electric can-
dles, and some new ornaments each year to replace the broken
ones. On the mantel was a group of angels with painted
mouths wide open and hymn books in their hands, and beside
them a plastic creche. Whatever pine boughs had been clipped
from the top of the tree were laid along the mantel, with oc-
casional tufts of cotton to simulate snow.
During the course of the holidays Mrs. Bridge would drive
the children around to see how other houses were decorated,
and on one of these trips they came to a stucco bungalow with a
life-size cutout of Santa Glaus on the roof, six reindeer in the
front yard, candles in every window, and by the front door an
enormous cardboard birthday cake with one candle. On the
cake was this message: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEAR JESUS.
"My word, how extreme," said Mrs. Bridge thoughtfully.
"Some Italians must live there."
Alice Jones was now appearing every month or so, though her
father came to work at the neighbors' each Saturday as usual.
On those occasions when she accompanied him she would
spend the morning with Carolyn, but then, about noon, she
would get on the streetcar and go home by herself. During the
Mrs. Bridge * 41
morning she and Carolyn would have a confidential talk,
usually in Carolyn's room, that is, in the room that Carolyn
and Ruth shared. Ruth was seldom at home on Saturday; no-
body in the family knew where she went. So Alice Jones and
Carolyn would shut the door to the room and converse in low
tones or in whispers about school and clothes and friends and
boys and how they intended to raise their children.
"How many are you going to have?" asked Carolyn.
"Eleven/* Alice said firmly.
"Heavens!" said Carolyn. "That's certainly telling."
"What kind of talk is that?" Alice wanted to know. "How
many are you going to have?"
"Two, I believe. That makes a nice family."
One Saturday at lunch time, shortly after Alice had started
to the streetcar line, Carolyn said that Alice had invited her
to come to a party next Saturday afternoon.
"Well, that was nice of Alice, wasn't it?" Mrs. Bridge re-
plied, and with a tiny silver fork she ate a slice of banana from
her fruit salad, and then a piece of lettuce.
"Where is the party to be?"
"At her house/'
"Where does Alice live?"
"Thirteenth and Prospect."
Mrs. Bridge took up a little silver knife and began to cut a
slice of peach which was rather too large to be eaten in one
bite. She knew where Thirteenth and Prospect was, although
she had never stopped there. It was a mixed neighborhood.
"Can I go?"
Mrs. Bridge smiled affectionately at Carolyn. "I wouldn't if
I were you."
42 * Mrs. Bridge
Never Speak to Strange Men
It was necessary to be careful among people you did not know.
Mrs. Bridge did not wish to be rude, but, as her husband had
more than once reminded her, and as anyone could see from
the newspapers, there were all kinds of people in the world,
and this, together with several other reasons, was why she did
not want Carolyn running around in the north end of town.
Not long after Alice's invitation had been rejected Mrs.
Bridge was downtown shopping, paying very little attention
to the people around her, when all at once she was conscious
that a man was staring at her. She could not help glancing at
him. She saw only that he was in his forties and that he was not
badly dressed. She turned away and walked to another
counter, but he followed her.
"How do you do?" he began, smiling and touching the brim
of his hat.
Mrs. Bridge grew a little frightened and began looking
around for assistance.
The man's face became red and he laughed awkwardly.
"I'm Henry Schmidt/ 1 he said. There was a pause. He added
nervously, "Gladys Schmidt's husband."
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Mrs. Bridge exclaimed. "I didn't
They talked for a few minutes. He mentioned having seen
Ruth coming out of a movie the previous week and com-
Mrs. Bridge # 43
merited that she was growing into quite a beauty, for which
Mrs. Bridge thanked him. Finally he tipped his hat and said
"It's so nice to see you/ 1 she responded. "Do say hello to
Gladys for me. We really should get together some evening."
Grace Barron was a puzzle and she was disturbing. She be-
longed in the country-club district, for Virgil was a banker,
and yet she seemed dissatisfied there. Mrs. Bridge could not
altogether grasp whatever it was Grace Barron was seeking, or
criticizing, or saying.
Grace Barron had once said to her, "India, I've never been
anywhere or done anything or seen anything. I don't know
how other people live, or think, even how they believe. Are
we right? Do we believe the right things?"
And on another occasion, when Mrs- Bridge had passed a
nice compliment on her home, Grace replied, "Virgil spent
fifty thousand dollars on this place." It had not been a boast;
it had been an expression of dissatisfaction.
At luncheons, Auxiliary meetings, and cocktail parties Mrs.
Bridge always found herself talking about such matters as the
by-laws of certain committees, antique silver, Royal Doulton,
Wedgwood, the price of margarine as compared to butter, or
what the hemline was expected to do, but since Grace Barron
44* Mrs. Bridge
had entered the circle she found herself fumbling for answers
because Grace talked of other things art, politics, astronomy,
literature. After such a conversation Mrs. Bridge felt inade-
quate and confused, if a little flattered and refreshed, and on
the way home she would think of what she should have said,
and could have said, instead of only smiling and replying, "It
does seem too bad," or, "Well, yes, I expect that's true."
Said Mr. Bridge, glancing over the edge of his evening
newspaper while she was talking about Grace Barron, "Ask
her if she wants one to marry her daughter."
Mrs. Bridge replied defensively, "They just have a son."
She knew this was a silly remark and added hurriedly, "I sup-
pose you're right, but "
"If you doubt me, ask her and see what she says."
"Goodness," Mrs. Bridge said, picking up the latest Tattler,
"suppose we drop the subject. I certainly didn't mean to pro-
voke you so."
Yet she continued to think about many things Grace Barron
had said and about Grace herself because she was different
somehow. The first time she had ever seen Grace was one
afternoon in October of the previous year, and she could re-
member it so clearly because it was the day of the first Italian
air raid against Ethiopia. In Kansas City the sun was shining
and the leaves of the trees were changing color. It was a beau-
tiful day. The Barrons had just moved into the neighborhood
and Madge Arlen, whose husband had attended high school
with Virgil Barron, was going to stop by and get acquainted,
and Mrs. Bridge went along. The Barrons had moved into an
enormous Colonial home near Meyer Circle, and that after-
noon as Mrs. Bridge and Madge Arlen drove up to the house
they saw a gang of boys playing football in the street. Appar-
ently Grace Barron was not at home because no one answered
the bell; they were about to leave when one of the boys came
running up from the street. He stopped and kicked the ball
back to the other players, then jumped over a flower bed, and
Mrs. Bridge & 45
with a whoop and a wave came running straight across the
"That must be her son," Madge Arlen observed.
"His name will be mud if she catches him leaping over her
flowers/* said Mrs. Bridge.
They waited, a trifle critically, for him to approach. He was
wearing a baggy sweatshirt, faded blue jeans, dirty white ten-
nis shoes, and a baseball cap. He was a thin, graceful boy,
about the same height as Douglas, and as he came nearer they
could see that he had freckles and a snub nose. He was laugh-
ing and panting for breath.
"Hello!" he called, and at that moment they realized he was
not a boy at all. It was Grace Barron.
And Mrs. Bridge recalled with equal clarity an evening
when she and Grace attended an outdoor symphony. Music
was one of the things Mrs. Bridge had always wanted to know
more about, and so she was pleased, if startled, when Grace,
whom she scarcely knew, simply telephoned one evening and
asked if she would like to go to the concert in the park. They
sat on folding chairs and listened, and it was like nothing else
Mrs. Bridge had ever experienced. When the symphony
ended, while the musicians were packing away their instru-
ments and the conductor was autographing programs, Grace
suggested they come to the next conceit.
"I'd love to!" Mrs. Bridge exclaimed- "When is it?" And
upon learning the date she said regretfully, "Oh, dear, the
Noel Johnsons are having a few people over for cocktails "
"That's all right," Grace interrupted. "I know how it is."
And there was an afternoon when they happened to run into
each other downtown. Mrs. Bridge was looking over some new
ovenware she had heard advertised on the radio. She decided
not to buy, and in the course of wandering around the store
she suddenly came upon Grace Barron staring fixedly at a gift
item an arrangement of tiny silver bells that revolved around
an elaborate candlestick.
46 * Mrs. Bridge
"Oh, isn't this tricky!'' Mrs. Bridge said, having a look at the
price tag. "But I think they're asking too much/'
"I feel like those bells/' said Grace. "Why are they turning
around, India? Why? Because the candle has been lighted.
What I want to say is oh, I don't know. It's just that the orbit
is so small/' She resumed staring at the contrivance, which
went slowly around and around and gave out a faint, exquisite
What's Up, Senora Bridge?
Spanish was a subject she had long meant to study, and quite
often she remarked to her friends that she wished she had
studied it in school. The children had heard her say this, so
for her birthday that year they gave her an album of phono-
graph records consisting of a lethargic dialogue between Senor
Carreno of Madrid and an American visitor named Senora
Brown. Along with the records came an attractive booklet of
instructions and suggestions. Mrs. Bridge was delighted with
the gift and made a joke about how she intended to begin her
lessons the first thing "manana."
As it turned out, however, she was busy the following day,
and the day after because of a PTA meeting at the school, and
the day after. Somehow or other more than a month passed
before she found time to begin, but there came a morning
when she resolved to get at it, and so, after helping Harriet
with the breakfast dishes, she found her reading glasses and sat
Mrs. Bridge * 47
down in the living room with the instruction booklet. The
course did not sound at all difficult, and the more pages she
read the more engrossing it became. The instructions were
clear enough: she was simply to listen to each line of dialogue
and then, in the pause that followed, to repeat the part of
She put the first record on the phonograph, turning it low
enough so that the mailman or any delivery boys would not
overhear and think she had gone out of her mind. Seated on
the sofa directly opposite the machine she waited, holding
onto the booklet in case there should be an emergency.
"Buenas dias, Senora Brown," the record began, appro-
priately enough. "C6mo esta usted?"
"Buenas dias, Senor Carreno/' Senora Brown answered.
"Muy bien, gracias. Y usted?"
The record waited for Mrs. Bridge who, however, was afraid
it would begin before she had a chance to speak, and in con-
sequence only leaned forward with her lips parted. She got up,
walked across to the phonograph, and lifted the needle back
to the beginning.
"Buenas dias, Senora Brown. Como esti usted?"
"Buenas dias, Senor Carreno/* replied Senora Brown all
over again. "Muy bien, gracias. Y usted?"
"Buenas dias, Senor Carreno," said Mrs. Bridge with in-
creasing confidence. "Muy bien, gracias. Y usted?"
"Muy bien/' said Senor Carreno.
Just then Harriet appeared to say that Mrs. Arlen was on the
telephone. Mrs. Bridge put the booklet on the sofa and went
into the breakfast room, where the telephone was.
1 'Hello, Madge. I've been meaning to phone you about the
Auxiliary luncheon next Friday. They've changed the time
from twelve-thirty to one. Honestly, I wish they'd make up
"Charlotte told me yesterday. You knew Grace Barron was
ill with flu, didn't you?"
48 * Mrs. Bridge
"Oh, not really! She has the worst luck."
"If it isn't one thing, it's another. She's been down since
day before yesterday. I'm running by with some lemonade and
thought you might like to come along. I can only stay a split
second. I'm due at the hairdresser at eleven/'
"Well, I'm in slacks. Are you going right away?"
"The instant the laundress gets here. That girl! She should
have been here hours ago. Honestly, I'm at the end of my
"Don't tell me you're having that same trouble! I sometimes
think they do it deliberately just to put people out. We're
trying a new one and she does do nice work, but she's so inde-
"Oh," said Madge Arlen, as if her head were turned away
from the phone, "here she comes. Lord, what next?"
"Well, I'll dash right upstairs and change," said Mrs.
Bridge. "I suppose the garden can wait till tomorrow." And
after telling Harriet that she would be at Mrs. Barren's if any-
one called, she started toward the stairs.
"Que tal, Senora Brown?" inquired the record.
Mrs. Bridge hurried into the living room, snapped off the
phonograph, and went upstairs.
New people in the neighborhood never failed to provide a
topic for discussion. As time went by and they became more
familiar they became, naturally, less newsworthy; the Lea-
Mrs. Bridge & 49
cocks, however, seemed more remarkable with every passing
day. The family consisted of Dr. Gail Leacock, who was not a
physician but an academic doctor an associate professor of
psychology his wife Lucienne, who was reputedly quite
wealthy, and Tarquin. Tarquin was about the same age as
Douglas but here all similarity ended. For one thing, Tarquin
was said to have an IQ of 185. Mrs. Bridge had not the vaguest
notion what Douglas's IQ might be, and she was not particu-
larly anxious to have him tested; not that she thought he was
dull, but it would be just like him deliberately to answer the
questions wrong. The discrepancy between their intellects,
whatever it might be, was only the focal point of the difference
between them; Douglas and Tarquin were, to say the least, oil
Dr. Leacock, like the majority of husbands, was seldom seen
in the daytime, but Mrs. Leacock and Tarquin liked to visit
about the neighborhood, and within a few weeks of their ar-
rival it had become evident that for some reason they had
chosen Mrs. Bridge as a special friend. Mrs. Bridge, somewhat
disconcerted by Lucienne Leacock's progressive ideas and
a little frightened by Tarquin's self-possession, nevertheless
felt vaguely flattered at being the object of so much atten-
One afternoon, while the three of them were drinking iced
tea on the back porch, Douglas came sauntering home from a
baseball game. He was barefoot his sneakers were tied to-
gether by the laces and were dangling around his neck so that
the toes bumped against his chest and he had an apple in his
mouth, and as he approached it became obvious that he was
trying to eat the apple without using his hands. He was twist-
ing his head around and making agonized faces. He did not
see the visitors until he had opened the screen door. Then he
stopped dead, looked first at Tarquin, then at Mrs. Leacock,
then at his mother, and then back at Tarquin. Unmistakably
Mrs. Bridge saw this Tarquin's upper lip curled backward
50 # Mrs. Bridge
in a sneer. Slowly Douglas took the apple out of his mouth
and said in a low voice, in which there was no ignoring the
hostility, "How'd you like a punch in the snoot?"
Mrs. Bridge had trained her children to be courteous no
matter what occurred, for she valued courtesy as highly as she
valued cleanliness, honesty, thrift, consideration, and other
such qualities. Douglas, though rebellious, had never failed
her when, so to speak, the chips were down. She knew he dis-
liked being polite to visitors, but he was, nonetheless; in fact,
though he grumbled more than his sisters, Mrs. Bridge had
noticed with some surprise that he was actually less apt to be
rude to guests than were the girls. He did try hard to be de-
cent, and she knew it was difficult for him. He had been doing
so well recently that she was flabbergasted by his remark to
Tarquin, and by the absolute antagonism apparent in his
stance he was now standing just inside the screen with his
fists balled and his head thrust truculently forward. Mrs.
Bridge was so amazed that for several seconds she was unable
to speak. Upon recovering her wits she began to get to her feet
but was restrained by Mrs. Leacock who had been smiling
rather earnestly at Douglas from the moment he first wan-
dered into view.
"What else would you do, Doug?" said Mrs, Leacock. "We'd
like to hear."
Douglas then gave her a long, baleful stare. Mrs. Bridge had
not been so shocked in years. Without a word, as though there
were no one on the porch, Douglas put the apple in his mouth
and slowly backed out the door and around the corner of the
"Young man," Mrs. Bridge began, furiously shaking a finger
at him when she found him sitting in the rafters of the garage
a few minutes after the departure of the guests, "I don't know
what got into you and I honestly don't care, but you're
most certainly going to hear from your father when he gets
Mrs. Bridge * 5 1
Douglas stepped across to another rafter and peered into the
corner where some wasps had bulk a nest.
"What in the world made you behave like that?" demanded
Mrs. Bridge, who was as nonplused as she was humiliated.
Douglas mumbled; it was not clear what he said.
"Well, I don't care whether you like him or not," she con-
tinued, assuming he had made some reference to Tarquin.
"When we have guests you'll treat them courteously. How
would you like it if we visited them and Tarquin behaved
as you did?"
"I'm not going to visit them," he answered, still looking at
the wasp nest.
"Well," said Mrs. Bridge after a pause, "we're not going to
have any more of that, and that's final. Now I mean business.
I've never been so ashamed in my life."
Douglas was sorry he had embarrassed his mother, but he
could not say so. With his arms outstretched for balance he
began to walk the length of the rafter.
"You're going to fall and break your neck/' said Mrs.
Douglas did not reply. He teetered a little and his mother
gasped. He had only meant to frighten her but he had gotten
a little farther off balance than he intended and had scared
himself, so he sat down and began to swing his legs.
"The next time they're here you're going to behave your-
self, is that clear?" She spoke as severely as possible, but by this
time she knew that somehow he had defeated her.
A small, affirmative noise came from him and she decided
that was the most she could hope for, at least for the time
being. She returned to the house, puzzled by the violence of
his reaction. Tarquin of course had been extremely rude to
sneer, and, in truth, Mrs. Bridge herself did not like Tarquin.
Even so she was baffled by Douglas's extraordinary hostility,
and she was quite apprehensive about the future.
The Leacocks continued to appear, unannounced, every
52 * Mrs. Bridge
few weeks Tarquin always with a book and Douglas was
unquestionably able to divine their approach, because he van-
ished a few minutes before they arrived and nobody could
find him until shortly after they had gone. Mrs. Bridge, while
disapproving of some of the things Tarquin did and said, was
nevertheless impressed by his brilliance.
Progressive education was Lucienne Leacock's favorite
topic of conversation; politics was second. Mrs. Bridge did not
know a great deal about either. Mrs. Leacock was a Socialist
who voted the straight Democratic ticket because, as she
phrased it, "We poor bloody Socialists never have a chance."
Mrs. Bridge had never before known a Socialist, and only a
very few Democrats, moderate Democrats at that, and she felt
slightly guilty as she sat on the porch or in the living room lis-
tening to Mrs. Leacock lambast the conservatives.
As for the public educational system, well, she could not
speak of it without profanity, and at every word Mrs. Bridge
inwardly flinched. Superior children, the same as Socialists,
did not have a chance. The system was geared to bourgeois
mediocrity. Tarquin, as anyone could guess, attended a pri-
vate school and he was as voluble a critic of public education
as his mother, despite the fact he had never been inside a pub-
lic school. He seemed unusually scornful of the school Douglas
attended. Mrs. Leacock listened with an intent, forceful ex-
pression to whatever he said, afterward suggesting how he
might have expressed himself more vigorously.
Progressive education had certainly developed Tarquin's
sense of being an individual, but some of the results were so
startling that Mrs. Bridge was reduced to a bewildered silence.
One April afternoon while they were enjoying the rose garden
Mrs. Leacock suddenly threw back her head and gave a loud
neighing laugh and then, fixing Mrs. Bridge with a forcible
look, she said, "Priceless! I must tell you. About two years
ago when we lived in New Haven?" She looked at Tarquin
to see if her memory was correct.
Mrs. Bridge * 53
"New Haven/' said Tarquin, grinning.
"This young monster threw a temper tantrum, and what a
tantrum! He set fire to the garage."
"I used benzine," said Tarquin indifferently as he began to
pull the petals from a particularly fine rose. "I should have
Mrs. Bridge often thought about that afternoon. She did not
think the Leacocks had been joking; on the other hand it
seemed impossible that Tarquin could be so irresponsible.
She was puzzled and irked and could not finally decide how she
felt toward the Leacocks; at times she was positive she dis-
liked them, then a moment later she would feel ashamed of
herself. If only Tarquin would not curse! Mrs. Bridge had no
use for profanity; she had always considered it not only vulgar
but unnecessary, and was distressed by the fact that Lucienne
Leacock encouraged the boy to swear. Furthermore, Tarquin
smoked cigarettes and was allowed to stay up as late at night as
he wanted to; yet he was not an adult, he was a boy, a large,
shambling fleshy boy with a flushed, freckled complexion and
moist red lips the color of liver. His eyes were alert and glassy,
yellowish-brown and luminous like the eyes of a dog, and very
knowing; it was all Mrs. Bridge could do to look him straight
in the eye, and, what was worse, she knew he was aware of this
and relished it. He clearly enjoyed catching and holding
her attention until she could hardly keep from shudder-
"Why don't you tell India what you said to your science
adviser yesterday?" his mother suggested. She was wearing
moccasins and white wool athletic socks and a baggy skirt and
sweater, so that she looked like a high-school girl, except for
her face, which was creased and shriveled like the face of a very
"Lucienne, really!" said her son. "How can I possibly ex-
press myself in regard to a man so jejune?" And he drew on his
cigarette with a look o boredom. Mrs. Bridge was fascinated
54 * Mrs. Bridge
and exasperated whenever he pulled out a cigarette; the whole
thing was beyond her understanding*
Although Douglas was absent whenever Mrs. Leacock and
Tarquin were around, he was evidently somewhere within
earshot, because one evening during an argument with his
father about the size of his allowance he blurted, "Jeez, how
am I supposed to express myself with nothing but a measly
fifty cents a week?"
"What's that?" demanded Mr. Bridge, lowering the news-
paper through which the discussion had been carried on.
"Well, I gotta express my personality, don't I?"
"Express your personality?" asked Mr. Bridge, and gazed at
his son curiously.
"That's what Tarquin does. He gets to express it whenever
he feels like it."
Mr. Bridge and Douglas studied each other for a while, one
of them bemused and the other defiant, and Mrs. Bridge
waited uneasily to find out how it was going to end.
"You'll express yourself when 1 say you can," Mr. Bridge
replied quietly. He shook up the newspaper and continued
Victim of Circumstances
There was another expressionist in the neighborhood, a boy
several years older than Tarquin Leacock, whom Douglas
avoided with equal assiduity, though for a different reason.
His name was Peters and he was a bully.
Mrs. Bridge & 55
One evening It was long after dark when Douglas finally
came home. He was exhausted and covered with dirt, although
this in itself was not remarkable.
"Where have you been?" Mrs. Bridge cried, rushing toward
him the moment he entered the house. "We've been looking
high and low for you. I was just about to phone the police."
"It was that big Peters guy's fault/' Douglas said in a low
voice. He wiped his nose on the sleeve of his sweatshirt and
trudged upstairs to his room.
"Well, thank heavens you're safe, at least/' she resumed
when he came down. He looked a little more respectable.
"Where on earth were you?"
He replied that he had been on top of Pfeiffer's garage.
"Until twenty minutes to nine?" she asked with as much
sarcasm as she could muster, and this was not much.
"I figured it was probably later than that/' he muttered
very glumly. "It felt like it was about midnight/'
She followed him to the breakfast room, where Harriet
was setting his place.
"What were you doing on Pfeiffer's garage? I'm sure they
didn't want you up there."
He started to answer, then sneezed, started to wipe his nose
with his hand and then, thinking better of it, took out his
"I was hiding/* he said and sneezed again.
"Hiding! From whom, may I ask?"
"From that big Peters guy/' he replied with some annoy-
ance, as though she should have known. "What did you think
I was going to do, stick my head up and get it blown off?"
"I think you'd better explain yourself, young man, or your
father's going to hear about this/*
"That's okay with me," he muttered.
"All right, now. Begin at the beginning."
"Well," he said, wearily buttering a slice of bread, "he just
chased me up there, that's all there is to it."
56 * Mrs. Bridge
"Who chased you? What are you talking about?"
He put down the bread and explained with elaborate em-
phasis. "That big fat slob Peters. He trapped me on top of
Pfeiffer's garage and wouldn't let me come down. Every time
I'd stick my head up he took a shot at me. He almost hit me
a couple of times/*
"Do you mean he had a gun?*'
"Well, what did you think he was shooting at me with?" He
glanced uncertainly at his mother, knowing he had been rather
impertinent, knowing secondly that he was not supposed
to end a sentence with a preposition, but he saw that this time
he would get away with both. She had the shocked look she
"What sort of a gun?"
"Oh, it was a beebee gun, one of those pump guns. He'd
pumped it up about seventy-five times, I guess, because every
time he took a shot at me it'd knock off a piece of cement- I
guess," he added thoughtfully, "you could just about kill a
horse with a good pump gun if you pumped long enough."
Mrs. Bridge did not know exactly what he was talking
about, but she did know that he knew what he was talking
"Why on earth was he shooting at you?" she asked, rather
weakly. She had never come up against a situation like this.
Douglas shrugged. "He just wanted to. I don't know. I
didn't ask him, you can bet on that. He'd of probably shot my
"But you must have provoked him."
"Oh, sure! A guy about sixteen times as big as me that's got
a pump gun. That's a big laugh. Hah!"
"I'm going to telephone the police," she said resolutely, be-
cause it did seem like something the police would be inter-
"Okay by me," said Douglas. "I guess they can find him easy
Mrs. Bridge * 57
enough if they just hang around Pfeiffer's garage. He's prob-
ably got somebody else up there by this time."
"Well, who is he? Does he live around there?"
"I don't know. All I know is he just hangs around that
"But why?" There was something nightmarish about the
Douglas, however, was not in the least mystified. "Well, be-
cause it's a good garage for trapping littler kids so they can't
get away. It's flat on top and it's got this kind of a little tiny
wall around the top. So he just hangs around there and usually
about the time school gets out he catches somebody on their
way home and starts shooting, so naturally they go up the
telephone pole and scrooch down behind the wall. He always
runs them that way/' he added as a final explanation. After a
pause he said moodily, "I usually detour, but I guess today I
was thinking about something else and forgot. Then all of a
sudden zing! and boy, I jumped about a thousand feet in
the air, believe me! So anyway I went up the telephone pole
like I said, because I figured he could probably outrun me
even i he is a big slob, and then there wasn't any way to get
down except the same way and he was there with that old
pump gun. I didn't think he was ever going to leave."
"Why didn't you call for help?"
"Well, because if I did he'd of probably got sore at me and
then I'd really've got fixed."
Mrs- Bridge had become so confused that she could not even
begin to understand this statement; she gazed at him in de-
spair. "Well, don't you know where this boy lives?"
Douglas shook his head.
"He must go to school somewhere, doesn't he?"
Douglas didn't know. "He's one of those big high-school
guys, except he's probably too dumb. They probably expelled
58 * Mrs. Bridge
"But you must know something about him."
"He's a big fat slob!" Douglas said, flaring up. He was get-
ting peeved with his mother for asking so many questions; he
had been trapped on the garage, he had escaped, that was all
there was to it. He hated Peters, but that was irrelevant. He
wished his mother would drop the subject.
The case had begun to seem a little weaker to Mrs. Bridge.
She was on the point of telephoning the Sixty-third Street
police station, for she was certain Douglas was telling the truth
and she knew perfectly well that a beebee gun could put out
someone's eye, and yet she could not very well call the police
station to report a high-school boy with a beebee gun just
that and nothing more.
"But can't you tell me anything about him? Anything at
Douglas shook his head. He could have found out more
about Peters, but there was no need to. He would avoid
Pfeiffer's from now on and that was all there was to it.
"I'm going to tell your father about that boy," she said posi-
tively. "Something ought to be done about him."
"Okay by me/ 1 Douglas assented. "Can I have some more
potatoes and gravy?"
"Okay, may I?"
Mrs. Bridge * 59
Mr. Bridge did hear about the next adventure.
On his way home from the public school one afternoon
shortly before the start of summer vacation, Douglas came
across Tarquin seated beneath a chestnut tree. There was a
book in his lap and he seemed to be innocently reading. Doug-
las was carrying a weed he had pulled up, and was using it to
whip the horse on which he was making an escape from some
"Whoa!" said Douglas softly, reining to a stop. Then, con-
scious that Tarquin knew about the fictitious horse and was
snickering at him, he abandoned the game and dropped the
"Hello," Tarquin said without moving,
After a pause Douglas said, "H'llo." After another pause,
during which he gazed up into the branches of the chestnut
tree and industriously scratched first one ankle and then the
other, he added, "What're you doing here?"
"Haven't I a right to be here?"
Douglas was thinking this over when Tarquin suddenly
threw a rock at him. He had kept the rock hidden under the
book. Douglas saw it coming and ducked, but even so it
scraped the side of his head.
"Okay," he said. "You asked for it," and ran forward with
his fists doubled up.
60 * Mrs. Bridge
When he got home later that afternoon, after stopping by
the high school to watch the track team at practice, and having
searched the bleachers for valuables, he was disconcerted to
find not only that his father was at home but that he had
heard about the fight with Tarquin. Mrs. Leacock had tele-
phoned Mr. Bridge at the office.
"Well, he started it/' said Douglas defensively, and when
told to continue with his version of the fight he said, "Well,
he sort of jumped up and took out across the streetcar tracks
toward Wornall Road, so I took after him and boy, I just
about didn't make it and he kept yelling over his shoulder
how I better not touch him because he knew how to fight with
jiu-jitsu and "
"What do you mean you just about didn't make it? Didn't
"Boy, that streetcar just about got me. But anyway, he "
"Tell this to me again," said Mr. Bridge. He had been stand-
ing up; now he seated himself and listened to the story with
extreme attention. "Do you mean/' he asked, "that Tarquin
threw the rock at you and led you across the tracks in front of
Douglas nodded enthusiastically. He had, in fact, come very
close to being hit.
"I see/' Mr. Bridge said. For a long time he was lost in
thought, but finally he glanced up and said, "I understand
you caught him/'
"Oh, sure. He runs like a girl. That's because he's knock-
"So then what transpired?"
Douglas gazed at his father doubtfully.
"What happened next?"
"Oh. Well, let's see. I sort of punched him in the nose once
or twice, I think."
"I guess I did."
Mrs. Bridge #61
"Was that the end of the fight?"
"Pretty much. I suppose you could actually say It was be-
cause he started to bawl like a little kid, so uh that's about
Douglas groaned and made an agonized face. He was em-
barrassed about this next item because he knew he had not
behaved very well. Unfortunately it was impossible to distract
his father in the way he could usually distract his mother, so
he did not even try to change the subject. Reluctantly he said,
"I can't stand cry-babies/'
Douglas heaved a deep sigh. "Okay, okay. I hauled off and
socked him one in the breadbasket/'
"While he was lying down?"
"He was up. I mean he was up when I let him have it in the
breadbasket. Then he fell down again and wouldn't get up
any more even when I dared him to. He only lay there and
screamed about how he was going to stab me to death/'
Scarcely had he finished saying this when he became aware of
a change in his father's attitude; inquiringly he looked at his
father, and next at his mother, who had been lingering in the
With modest pride he concluded, "I guess he won't bother
anybody any more, not after what I did to him/' He was as-
tonished when his father reached forward and grabbed his
arm. "I can fix his wagon any old dayl" Douglas shouted. He
was frightened at finding himself caught like this and he did
not know what was going on.
"Listen, son," his father said earnestly. "If that boy starts
another fight I want you to do something. Are you listening
"What do you want?"
"I want you to walk away. Don't take your eyes off him, just
walk away, that's all,"
62 * Mrs. Bridge
Douglas attempted to twist out of the grip on his arm. He
was deeply surprised by his father's strength. His arm had
begun to throb from the pain. He was confused and defiant,
and all that occurred to him was that he was being asked to
run away from a fight, and not only that but from a boy he
knew he could lick.
"Do you hear me?"
"Never mind why."
"Okay," he responded grudgingly, but added, as soon as his
arm was released, "only he better cut out throwing rocks at
"Under no circumstances. I want this clearly understood."
"All right," he said. He was resentful and ashamed. More
than anything else he was afraid of being thought a coward.
After he had gone upstairs his parents were silent for a
few minutes. Mr. Bridge was thoughtful and Mrs. Bridge was
waiting for what he would say.
"That Leacock boy is going to kill somebody one of these
days," he observed.
"I do think they let him run wild," she agreed, "but I'm
certain he wouldn't do anything really wrong."
*'You just watch," he said angrily.
"It was awfully strange about setting the garage on fire,"
she admitted. "And gracious, I certainly don't approve of fight-
ing, but it does seem that Douglas can look out for himself."
"Douglas is a boy and thinks like a boy. Tarquin Leacock
has the mind of an adult."
"Well," said Mrs. Bridge as she put on her reading glasses
and opened the latest copy of The Tattler, "if that's the case,
I shouldn't think there' d be much to worry about."
Mrs. Bridge * 63
Appearances were an abiding concern of Mrs. Bridge, which
was the reason that one evening as she saw Ruth preparing to
go out she inquired, "Aren't you taking a purse, dear?"
Ruth answered in a husky voice that whatever she needed
she could carry in her pockets.
Said Mrs. Bridge, "Carolyn always takes a purse/'
Ruth was standing in front of the hall mirror, standing in
a way that disturbed Mrs. Bridge, though she did not know
precisely why, unless it could be that Ruth's feet were too far
apart and her hips a little too forward. Mrs. Bridge had been
trying to cure her of this habit by making her walk around
the house with a book balanced on her head, but as soon as
the book was removed Ruth resumed sauntering and standing
In that unseemly posture.
"And you're older than Corky," Mrs. Bridge went on with
a frown; and yet, looking at her elder daughter, she could not
continue frowning. Ruth really was quite lovely, just as
Gladys Schmidt's husband had said; If only she were not so
conscious of it, not so aware of people turning to look at her,
for they did stop to look men and women both so delib-
erately sometimes that Mrs, Bridge grew uneasy, and could
not get over the Idea that Ruth, by her posture and her chal-
lenging walk, was encouraging people to stare.
"Is somebody coming by for you?"
64* Mrs. Bridge
"Fm only going to the drugstore/'
"What on earth do you do in the drugstore?" asked Mrs.
Bridge after a pause. "Madge Arlen told me she saw you there
one evening sitting all by yourself in a booth. She said she
supposed you were waiting for someone/'
At this Ruth stiffened noticeably, and Mrs. Bridge wanted
to ask, "Were you?"
"I really don't approve of you sitting around in drug-
stores/' she went on, for she was afraid to ask directly if Ruth
was going there to meet a boy not afraid of asking the ques-
tion, but of the answer. "And I don't believe your father would
approve of it either/* she continued, feeling helpless and
querulous in the knowledge that her daughter was hardly lis-
tening. "Goodness, I should think you could find something
else to do. What about playing with Carolyn and her friends?*'
Ruth didn't bother to answer.
"Ill lend you my blue suede purse, if you like/' said Mrs.
Bridge hopefully, but again there was no response. Ruth was
still admiring herself in the mirror.
"I shouldn't think you could carry much in those pockets/'
Ruth stepped backward, narrowed her eyes, and unfastened
the top button of her blouse.
"Really, you need some things/' Mrs. Bridge remarked a
trifle sharply. "And button yourself up, for goodness sake.
You look like a chorus girl/*
"Good night," said Ruth flatly and started for the door.
"But, dear, a lady always carries a purse!" Mrs. Bridge was
saying when the door closed.
Mrs. Bridge * 65
From Another World
Ruth was not particularly extravagant, In contrast to Carolyn,
who spent her allowance the day she received it usually on a
scarf or a baggy sweater, despite the fact that her dresser
drawers were filled with scarves and sweaters but Mrs.
Bridge did not approve of Ruth's taste. Her allowance was apt
to go for a necklace, or a sheer blouse, or a pair of extreme
earrings. The earrings were impossible. Mrs. Bridge, whose
preference in earrings tended toward the inconspicuous, such
as a moderately set pearl, tried to restrain herself whenever she
caught sight of Ruth wearing something unusually objection-
able, but there was one morning when she appeared for
breakfast in Mexican huaraches, Japanese silk pajamas with
the sleeves rolled up displaying a piece of adhesive tape
where she had cut herself while shaving her forearms blue
horn-rimmed reading glasses, and for earrings a cluster of tiny
golden bells that tinkled whenever she moved. She might have
gotten by that morning except for the fact that as she ate she
steadily relaxed and contracted her feet so that the huaxaches
"Now see here, young lady," Mrs. Bridge said with more au-
thority than she felt, as she dropped a slice of bread into the
automatic toaster. "In the morning one doesn't wear earrings
that dangle. People will think you're something from another
66 * Mrs. Bridge
"So?" said Ruth without looking up from the newspaper.
"Just what do you mean by that?"
"So who cares?"
*7 care, that's who!" Mrs. Bridge cried, suddenly very close
to hysteria, "I care very much/*
Douglas did a peculiar thing.
Instead of building a cave, or a house in a tree, as most of
his friends were doing, he chose to build a tower of rubbish.
"Sounds awfully exciting/' Mrs. Bridge responded some-
what absently when he first told her of his project; then, be-
cause she knew children wanted their parents to be interested
in what they were doing, she asked how big it was going to be.
He was vague, saying only that it was going to be the biggest
tower anybody ever saw. She smiled and patted him affection-
ately. He looked at her for a long moment, shrugged in a
singular way, and returned to the vacant lot where he in-
tended to build the tower.
In the lot he had found some two-by-fours and a number of
old bricks and half a bag of cement. He did not know where
these materials had come from; he waited several days to see
if they belonged to anybody. Apparently they didn't, so he
claimed them. He got a shovel and went to work.
Having dug a hole about four feet deep, he lined it with
brick and cement, planted the two-by-fours solidly upright,
Mrs. Bridge * 67
and liberally sprinkled this foundation with water. He then
waited for his friends, the trash collectors, and followed their
truck around the neighborhood. There was a moment be-
tween the time a rubbish barrel was rolled to the curb and
the time the truck stopped for it that Douglas made good use
of; he grabbed anything he thought belonged on his tower. He
collected a great quantity of useful objects, and, on the side,
about forty or fifty cereal boxtops, which he mailed to such
places as Battle Creek, where there was a cereal factory, getting
in return all kinds of prizes.
Within a week he had accumulated enough junk to keep
the construction going for a long while. Half-hidden in the tall
grass and wild shrubbery of the vacant lot lay a bundle of brass
curtain rods which the Arlens thought were now in the city
dump, a roll of electrician's tape and a bent skillet from
the Pfeiffers* trash barrel, a hatchet with a splintered handle,
a cigar box full of rusty nails, a broken fishing rod, several
lengths of clothesline and wire, coat hangers, bottles, two
apple boxes, an old raincoat and a pair of worn galoshes, a
punctured inner tube, some very old golf clubs with wooden
shafts, the cylinder from a lawnmower, springs from an over-
stuffed chair, and, among other articles, thanks again to the
unconscious generosity of the Arlens, a mildewed leather suit-
"My I** said Mrs. Bridge, when he told her he was working
on the tower, "I can see you're going to be an architect or an
engineer when you grow up. Now we're having an early lunch
because this is my day for bridge club, so don't run off some-
Douglas said he would be in the vacant lot.
During the next week he managed to steal a full bag of
powdered cement from a house going up in the next block; he
broke it open after the workmen left, shoveled the powder
into a wheelbarrow, and eventually managed to push the
wheelbarrow into the vacant lot, where he dumped the powder
68* Mrs. Bridge
In the pit and gave It a thorough watering. Thereafter he
stopped mentioning his tower, and If asked what he was doing
in the lot he would reply laconically that he was just playing.
With the addition of jugs and stones, tin cans, tree limbs,
broken bottles, and all the other trash he could find, tied or
nailed or cemented to the uprights, the tower continued to
grow, until there came a Sunday morning when a man named
Ewing who lived on the far side of the lot saw the tower rising
above his hedge. At this point it was nearly six feet high.
Ewing went around for a better look, and, discovering Douglas
watching him from behind a sycamore tree, said to him,
^*What have you got here, my friend?"
"Nothing/' replied Douglas, coming out from behind the
sycamore. "It's just a tower, that's all. It isn't hurting any-
Having inspected the tower from all sides, Ewing turned
his attention to Douglas, because it was the builder, after all,
and not the building which was remarkable; and Douglas,
embarrassed by the speculative eyes, picked up a length of
pipe and struck the tower a resounding blow to prove it was
as substantial as It looked.
Shortly thereafter Mrs. Bridge saw it too it rose jaggedly
above the fence that divided their grounds from the lot and
went out to investigate. She looked at it for a considerable
period, tapping a fingernail against her teeth, and that same
afternoon she said lightly to her son, "My, but that certainly
is a big old tower/'
Douglas thrust his hands in his pockets and gazed with a
distant expression at his shoes.
"Think what would happen if it fell over ker-p?un& and
hit you square on the head," she continued, ruffling his hair,
and reflecting automatically that he needed another haircut.
Douglas knew his tower would stop a truck, so he only
sighed and pursed his lips.
Mrs. Bridge was not overly concerned, being under the im-
M TS. Bridge * 69
pression he was going to become bored with the tower and
would dismantle it. But about two weeks later she realized he
was still working on it, because she could see a cider jug and a
chicken coop wired to the top of a broken chair, and she re-
called that on her last visit this chair had been on top of
everything. She had assumed this chair was his throne; she
remembered how he liked to play king-of-the-mountain, and
possibly he only built the tower in order to have a throne.
Now, wondering how much higher he meant to go, she
walked out to the vacant lot for another look, and this time she
remained somewhat longer. Tentatively she pushed at the
tower and was troubled by its solidity. She pushed again, with
her palm, and again, much harder. The tower did not sway an
inch. She began to wonder whether or not he would be able
to destroy his creation assuming she could convince him it
ought to be torn down.
She intended to speak to him that same afternoon, but she
did not know precisely how to begin because, like the tower,
he seemed to be growing out of her reach. He was becoming
more than a small boy who could be coaxed this way or that;
the hour was approaching when she must begin to reason with
him as with an adult, and this idea disturbed her. She was not
certain she was equal to it. And so a few days, a week, two
weeks went by, and though she had not spoken neither had she
"Well!* 1 she finally exclaimed, as though she had just
thought of it, "I see that ugly old tower keeps getting bigger
and bigger." It was, to tell the truth, quite a bit bigger. When
he did not say a word, or even look at her, she wanted to grab
him by the shoulders and shake loose whatever was growing
"It seems to me that a big boy like you wouldn't want to
go on building a silly tower," she said, hopefully, and then he
glanced at her in a way that was somehow derisive, as if he
were reading her mind.
70 # Mrs. Bridge
"111 tell you what let's do!" She stooped In order to look
directly Into his face. "First thing after dinner well get some
wire clippers and a hammer and a screwdriver and well, just
everything we need, and you and 1 together will tear it to bits*
Won't that be fun?"
He turned his head away and said very softly, "No."
After a while Douglas rubbed his nose and muttered that
there was too much concrete.
"Oh, 111 bet we " Mrs. Bridge hesitated. Her insights
usually arrived too late to illuminate the situation, but this
one was in time.
"You're probably right," she said, continuing with treach-
erous frankness, "I doubt if you or anybody else could tear it
She watched him almost fall into the trap. He was ready to
defy her by saying he could if he wanted to, and if she could
get him to say that she knew the battle would be half over.
He was on the verge of it; she could see the defiance on his
face and in the way he stood. But then, instead of answering,
he paused to think, and Mrs. Bridge was dismayed. All her life
she had been accustomed to responding immediately when
anyone spoke to her. If she had been complimented she
promptly and graciously thanked the speaker; or if, by chance,
her opinion was asked on something, anything the cost of
butter, the Italian situation no matter what, if she was
asked she answered readily. Now, seeing her son with his
mouth clamped shut like a turtle with a seed and his face
puckered in thought, she did not know what to do. She gazed
down on him expectantly.
After a long silence Douglas said, " Maybe/'
And here, for the time being, the matter rested.
Mrs. Bridge * 71
Mrs. Bridge stood alone at a front window thinking of how
quickly the years were going by. The children were growing
up so rapidly, and her husband She stirred uneasily. Already
there was a new group of "young marrieds/* people she hardly
knew. Surely some time had gone by she expected this;
nevertheless she could not get over the feeling that something
was drawing steadily away from her. She wondered if her hus-
band felt the same; she thought she would ask him that eve-
ning when he got home. She recalled the dreams they used to
share; she recalled with a smile how she used to listen to him
speak of his plans and how she had never actually cared one
way or another about his ambition, she had cared only for him.
That was enough. In those days she used to think that the long
hours he spent in his office were a temporary condition and
that as soon as more people came to him with legal problems
he would, somehow, begin spending more time at home. But
this was not the way it turned out, and Mrs. Bridge under-
stood now that she would never see very much of him. They
had started off together to explore something that promised
to be wonderful, and, of course, there had been wonderful
times. And yet, thought Mrs. Bridge, why is it, that we
haven't that nothing has that whatever we ?
It was raining. Thunder rambled through the lowering
y# # Mrs. Bridge
clouds with a constant, monotonous, trundling sound, like
furniture being rolled back and forth in the attic. In the front
yard the evergreen trees swayed in the wind and the shutters
rattled in the sudden rainy gusts. She noticed that a branch
had been torn from the soft maple tree; the branch lay on the
driveway and the leaves fluttered.
Harriet came in to ask if she would like some hot chocolate.
"Oh, no thank you, Harriet," said Mrs. Bridge. "You have
Harriet was so nice. And she was a good worker. Mrs. Bridge
was very proud of having Harriet and knew that she would be
next to impossible to replace, and yet there were times when
Mrs. Bridge half wished she would quit. Why she wished this,
she did not know, unless it was that with Harriet around to
do all the work she herself was so often dismally bored. When
she was first married she used to do the cooking and house-
cleaning and washing, and how she had looked forward to a
few minutes of leisure! But now how odd there was too
much leisure. Mrs. Bridge did not admit this fact to anyone,
for it embarrassed her; indeed she very often gave the impres-
sion of being distracted by all the things needed to be done
phone the laundry, the grocer, take Ruth to the dentist,
Carolyn to tap-dancing class, Douglas to the barber shop, and
so on. But the truth remained, and settled upon her with ever
The light snapped on in the back hall. She heard his cough
and the squeak of the closet door and the familiar flapping
sound of his briefcase on the upper shelf. Suddenly over-
whelmed by the need for reassurance, she turned swiftly from
the window and hurried toward him with an intent, wistful
expression, knowing what she wanted without knowing how
to ask for it.
He heard the rustle of her dress and her quick footsteps on
the carpet. He was hanging up his coat as she approached^ and
Mrs. Bridge * 73
he said, without irritation, but a trifle wearily because this was
not the first time it had happened, "I see you forgot to have
the car lubricated."
She reflected that her difficulties with Ruth and Douglas might
be inevitable; after all, years had passed since she was their
Each of her own birthdays she celebrated without joy, with
a certain resignation and doubt; it came and went as it was
supposed to, and a few months later she would find herself
depressed and unaccountably perplexed by how old she was.
Thirty, thirty-five, forty, all had come to visit her like ad-
monitory relatives, and all had slipped away without a
trace, without a sound, and now, once again, she was waiting.
Someone was at the front door; the chimes were jingling
sweetly. It was the postman with a package. It was from Mem-
phis. She cut the masking tape, lifted the cardboard flaps, and
underneath the excelsior she found a pewter tray in the shape
of a clover. She took hold of the stem to lift it out, but the
tray, instead of remaining rigid like all the other trays she had
ever seen, began to droop. The alloy was much too soft to
support its own weight, so that in a few seconds the tray was
dangling almost straight down from the handle. Mrs. Bridge
was not surprised. She pressed it back into shape, returned it
74 * Mrs. Bridge
to the box, carried the box to the attic, and that afternoon
wrote her annual thank-you note to second-cousin Lulubelle
Watts. In years past Mrs. Bridge had received from Lulu such
birthday gifts as a bile green kitchen alarm clock, a long-haired
pillow, a framed photograph of the Great Smokies, and a pair
of heavy bronze balls which apparently should have had an
instruction booklet. In thinking over these gifts she often
tried to decide whether Lulubelle disliked her and was delib-
erately insulting her, or whether it was simply that Lulu had
the world's worst taste. She also thought of picking out some-
thing just as grotesque to send in return, but minding the
Golden Rule she always shipped to Memphis on Lulu's birth-
day some very nice gift in the nature of a leather-covered en-
gagement calendar, guest towels, a cake knife, or a bisque
At his wife's suggestion Mr. Bridge had walked around to the
vacant lot to examine the eccentric and mystifying memorial
Douglas had built and which he had not yet abandoned; Mr.
Bridge tried to topple it and then simply attempted to shake
it. The tower did not move. Satisfied that it would not col-
lapse while Douglas or his friends were clambering about, and
that they had sense enough not to impale themselves on the
outcroppings, he returned to his evening newspaper and
thought no more about it.
Mrs. Bridge * 75
Mrs. Bridge, however, was uneasy. She sensed that people
In the neighborhood were aware of the tower. Even so, she
did not become actively alarmed until a man at a cocktail
party, upon being Introduced to her, mentioned that he had
driven over to see the tower.
"Oh, horrors!" she exclaimed as a means of registering her
attitude. "Is It famous all over the city?* 1 And though she was
joking she was dead serious.
"A curious form of protest," the man replied, tucking his
pipe with tobacco; then, after a sharp glance directly Into her
eyes, he added, "You are aware of the boy's motivation, are
To which she smiled politely, being somewhat confused,
and made a mental note that the man had been drinking.
The next morning as soon as Douglas left for school
she telephoned the fire department. Everyone called the
fire department when there was a problem that deified clas-
sification. Shortly before noon a small red truck parked In
front of the house and two firemen she had never spoken
to a fireman before and found the experience rather strange
two of them entered the house as though it were the most
natural thing in the world, and listened to what she told
them about the tower. Then they went out to have a look.
Mildly amused at first, presently they were startled. How-
ever they had been called upon by housewives for many
unnatural labors, and so they unhooked their tools of de-
struction and set to work. It took them until almost dark to
turn it into a mound of rubble, but at last an area of several
square yards was covered with splintered wood, broken glass,
wire, great gritty chunks of lumpy concrete, and whatever else
had gone into the creation of it, and the air was filled with
dust as though there had been a peculiar explosion. The fire-
men said they* would make a report of the tower and Its de-
struction and that the lot would be cleaned up within a day or
76 * Mrs. Bridge
Douglas, having come home a few minutes before the fire-
men left, stood watching them in grieved silence. Mrs. Bridge,
seeing him from an upstairs window, went out to stand behind
him with her hands resting on his shoulders, and occasionally
rumpled his hair.
"It was just getting too big/' she confided to him gently.
"People were beginning to wonder."
The Search for Love
It seemed to Mrs. Bridge that she had done the necessary
thing, and therefore the right thing, in regard to the mon-
strous tower. Again and again she thought about it, and the
reason she thought about it so intensively was that she per-
ceived a change in Douglas's attitude toward her. He was more
As time went on she felt an increasing need for reassurance.
Her husband had never been a demonstrative man, not even
when they were first married; consequently she did not expect
too much from him. Yet there were moments when she was
overwhelmed by a terrifying, inarticulate need. One evening
as she and he were finishing supper together, alone, the chil-
dren having gone out, she inquired rather sharply if he loved
her. She was surprised by her own bluntness and by the almost
shrewish tone of her voice, because that was not the way she
actually felt. She saw him gazing at her in astonishment; his
expression said very clearly: Why on earth do you think I'm
Mrs. Bridge * 77
here if I don't love you? Why aren't I somewhere else? What
in the world has got into you?
Mrs. Bridge smiled across the floral centerpiece and it
occurred to her that these flowers she had so carefully arranged
on the table were what separated her from her husband and
said, a little wretchedly, "I know it's silly, but it's been such a
long time since you told me."
Mr. Bridge grunted and finished his coffee. She knew it was
not that he was annoyed, only that he was incapable of the
kind of declaration she needed. It was so little, and yet so
much. While they sat across from each other, neither knowing
quite what to do next, she became embarrassed; and in her
embarrassment she moved her feet and she inadverently
stepped on the buzzer, concealed beneath the carpet, that
connected with the kitchen, with the result that Harriet soon
appeared in the doorway to see what it was that Mrs. Bridge
Mrs. Bridge often referred to Harriet as a "gem," adding that
she had been with the family for more than nine years and
that she didn't know what she would do if Harriet ever de-
cided to leave. Considering that cooks and chauffeurs in south-
side Kansas City often stayed with a family for twenty or
thirty years, Harriet's nine years was nothing to boast about.
Even so there were a good many matrons who knew her by
78 # Mrs. Bridge
sight at the bus stop and had been elegantly served by her
during luncheons or cocktail parties, with the result that Har-
riet, though a comparative newcomer, had the reputation of
being a catch*
Indeed there were few things about her to which Mrs.
Bridge could object. The main thing was her smoking. She
was an expert at smoking, expelling it through her nostrils
and blowing rings like a man, and she had to be warned occa-
sionally because she did not mind answering the door with a
cigarette in her mouth. Otherwise Mrs. Bridge very rarely had
to speak to her. On certain humid summer days when she was
alone in the house she would take oft her uniform and put on
a halter and an alpine dirndl skirt, and once or twice she had
been caught wearing this outfit. But she was not lazy, and she
did not drink at all, she was an excellent cook, and not only
the children but Mr. Bridge himself seemed to like her.
So it came as a blow to Mrs. Bridge when, altogether by
accident, she heard Harriet flirting with Mrs. Ralph Porter.
The Porters had never been close friends but were decidedly
in the same circle as the Bridges. It was one cloudy afternoon
in spring when Mrs. Bridge, who had a headache, decided to
telephone her husband at the office and ask him to bring home
some Empirin. She was upstairs in the bedroom at the time,
so she walked into the hall and picked up the receiver. The
line was busy. She was about to replace the phone in its niche
when she heard Harriet asking, "How much do you all pay?"
Some instinct warned Mrs. Bridge what the conversation was
about, and for a moment she had not the strength of character
to stop eavesdropping. Mrs. Porter's voice answered, "What-
ever you're receiving there, Harriet, 111 pay you ten dollars a
"Do tell," murmured Harriet, her voice not giving away
her thoughts, and Mrs. Bridge, frozen to the upstairs phone,
could almost see her seated on the pantry stool with her legs
crossed, blowing smoke rings.
Mrs. Bridge * 79
There was a crucial pause. Mrs. Bridge was now afraid to
replace the receiver because the click would be audible; all
she could do was hold her head and wait.
"I feel/* Harriet murmured, **Mr. and Mrs. Bridge could
not precisely survive too well should I depart here." With
chilling poise she added, "However, it was extremely nice of
you to call."
And that, as even such a bald soul as Mrs. Porter could tell,
was the end of the matter.
No Scenes In Church
The Porters were regular church-goers, and after the tele-
phone incident Mrs. Bridge felt a sense of exasperation when-
ever she saw Mrs. Porter in church, It was difficult to imagine
how a person could be so devout and so conniving, but that
was Mrs. Porter.
For better or worse Mrs. Bridge did not often encounter her
there, the reason being that she did not like attending church
alone and it was quite difficult to get Mr. Bridge to go. He
had little enough use for dogma and would rather lie abed
reading vacation brochures on those Sunday mornings when
he did not go to the office, or, dressed in old clothes, he would
spend the morning in the yard with a can of snail poison. Now
and then she became worried about his apathetic attitude
toward religion, especially after one of Dr. Foster's sermons
8o# Mrs. Bridge
on the consequences of atheism, and she would then half-
fearfully go after her husband.
"When I need to know anything/' he would reply with
awful finality, "I go to someone who knows more than I do/*
This was quite a slam at Dr. Foster.
"But don't you think he has some very good ideas?** she
would counter. "It certainly wouldn't hurt you to attend once
in a while. And people do ask where you are/"
So it came about that once or twice a year he would silently
drive to church. They would climb to the balcony, for what
reason she could never understand, and there with heads al-
most touching the stained-oak rafters, surrounded by stifling,
humid air, they sat through the sermon.
One Easter, an unusually warm day, just as Dr. Foster began
easing into the familiar narrative the empty tomb, and so
forth the scent of lilies became overpowering. Or was it the
sight of Mrs. Porter looking altogether righteous? In any event
Mrs. Bridge felt herself swaying. She reached toward the bal-
cony rail for support and whispered giddily that she was going
to faint. Mr. Bridge had been dozing, but he woke up imme-
diately and turned his head and glared at her severely.
"Not here! Wait until we get outside/' he told her in a voice
that was audible throughout the balcony.
"All right, I'll try/' she whispered. She thought he meant
to escort her outside, but apparently not, because he did not
get up, and in a few minutes she realized he meant for her to
wait until church was over. There was nothing to do but to
try not to faint, and so she did try, and succeeded.
Mrs. Bridge * 81
Dr. Foster had such an Impressive vocabulary that Mrs. Bridge
was moved to amplify her own. She Intended to, she had been
intending to for quite a while, but the opportunity never
presented Itself until she received as second prize at bridge
club a little book on how to build a more powerful vocabulary
in thirty days. The dust jacket, an eye-catching red, guaran-
teed that if the reader spent only a few minutes a day, his abil-
ity to express himself would so noticeably improve that within
two weeks friends would be commenting. Tests had proved, so
said the dust jacket, that the great majority of employers had
larger vocabularies than their employees, which, the jacket
hinted, was the reason for the status quo.
Although Mrs. Bridge had no more thought of becoming
an employer than an employee, she was delighted with her
prize; everyone else in Kansas City was reading it and she had,
therefore, been planning on buying a copy If she could not get
It from the rental library. She began to read it that same after-
noon as soon as she got home. The next day she was busy, but
the day after that she spent almost three hours studying, com-
pleting several lessons filling in the blanks and doing the
multiple-choice exercises at the back of the book. She spoke
of it enthusiastically to her friends, most of whom had either
read it or were definitely intending to, with the exception of
8s * Mrs. Bridge
Grace Barren, who always read books no one else ever
At the end of two weeks she was on her thirteenth lesson,
very nearly on schedule, when the telephone interrupted;
Madge Arlen was calling to say that a delivery truck had run
over their next-door neighbor's boxer. Dogs were always being
run over by delivery trucks. The Bridges had lost a collie sev-
eral years before, and some people named Ilgenfritz who lived
in the next block had lost two dachshunds.
"Oh, not really!" Mrs. Bridge began. "What a shame!"
"I tell you I'm up in arms!" replied Madge. "When Edith
told me about it I was so put out I simply couldn't speak/*
Presently the conversation got around to the vocabulary
book and Mrs. Bridge praised it and recommended it quite
strongly to Madge, who answered that she'd just finished read-
Mrs. Bridge was very much surprised by this news. "You
did?" she asked uncertainly, for the book had obviously not
affected Madge's vocabulary.
"Yes, and it was marvelous! Every last one of us ought
to read it."
Mrs. Bridge felt rather subdued after this talk with Madge;
however she continued with her lessons whenever there was
time. She did want to complete the book because she was al-
ways meeting people who asked if she had read it, and within
the month she had reached the twentieth lesson, where one
turned adverbs into nouns. So far none of her friends had
commented as the dust jacket promised; consequently Mrs.
Bridge was a little discouraged. The book began to wander
around the house. It found its way from the coffee table in the
living room to the window seat in the breakfast room; after
that it lay in a dresser drawer in the upstairs bedroom for
about a week, and briefly in the room shared by Carolyn and
Ruth. From there it traveled again to the breakfast room, to
Mrs. Bridge #83
the basement, and finally, Its pages already turning a sulphur
color and its jacket mended with Scotch Tape, it died on a
shelf between T. E. Lawrence and The Rubdiydt.
Madge and Grace were so different; Mrs. Bridge felt drawn to
them both, and was distressed that the two of them did not
care for each other. Now and then she felt they were compet-
ing for her friendship, though she could not be sure of this,
but if it was true it was both exciting and alarming. She often
thought about them. She felt more comfortable with Madge,
who liked everything about Kansas City, more secure, more
positive; with Grace Barron she felt obliged to consider every-
thing she said, and to look all around, and she could never
guess what Grace would say or do.
Tobacco Road, practically uncensored, had come to Kansas
City, and Madge Arlen possibly jealous of Grace Barron's
attentions called to ask if Mrs. Bridge wanted to go to the
Wednesday matinee. She had not thought about it, but there
was no reason not to, particularly since almost everyone was
going to see it in spite of its shady reputation, so she agreed.
The play had scarcely got under way when she received
a brief but severe shock: one of the girls in the cast looked ex-
tremely like Ruth with her hair uncombed. For an instant she
feared it truly was Ruth; it wasn't, of course, and as the play
84 * Mrs. Bridge
went on she could see that the actress was a few years older.
She did not enjoy the play, neither did Madge Arlen; they
left after the second act. On the way out of the theater Mrs.
Bridge remarked, "Frankly, I don't see why a play like To-
bacco Road is necessary/'
"We expected it to be earthy," Madge Arlen observed with
some lenience, "however, I do agree with you. It went much
One Summer Morning
It was very hot that summer.
For as long as she could remember, Mrs. Bridge had known
that unless she was wearing slacks slacks were worn only for
gardening she must wear stockings. In summer this could
be uncomfortable, but it was the way things were, it was the
way things had always been, and so she complied. No matter
where she was going, though it might be no farther than the
shopping center at Sixty-third Street, or even if she was not
going out of the house all day, she would put on her stockings.
But one morning and an extraordinarily hot day it prom-
ised to be, because by ten o'clock the tar in the street was glis-
tening she decided not to wear stockings. It was Harriet's
day off, Ruth and Carolyn had gone swimming at Lake Lota-
wana, and Douglas had gone to a model-airplane meet in
Swope Park, so nobody would ever know the difference. Hav-
ing selected the lightest dress she could find in her closet, she
put on a pair of blue anklets and the clogs she wore at the
Mrs. Bridge * 85
country-club swimming pool. Thus dressed, she considered
herself in the mirror and shook her head at the sight, but went
downstairs all the same. The Beckerle sisters, two elderly wid-
ows who were seldom seen about the neighborhood, chose that
morning to come visiting.
"Oh, goodness," cried Mrs, Bridge as she greeted them at
the door, "I look like something out of Tobacco Road!"
Having been repelled by Tobacco Road to the point where it
obsessed her, she employed it as a pigeonhole: whatever she
found unreal, bizarre, obnoxious, indecorous, malodorous, or
generally unsavory, unexpected, and disagreeable henceforth
belonged in Tobacco Road, was from there, or should have
been there. So, finding ker son in ragged tennis shoes, she let
him know where he was from. He didn't mind. He had never
cared about clothes one way or another, unless lie had become
attached to a particular garment, in which case he wore it until
she threw it away. Whenever it became necessary to get him
some new clothing there would be a quarrel, and after much
wrangling the two of them would drive off to one of the young
men's shops where he would be turned over to a clerk experi-
enced in these situations, and finally, after all three of them
were exhausted, the purchase was made. The argument in re-
gard to the gray suit was typical:
'Tve already got a suit."
86 # Mrs. Bridge
"But that's a summer suit/' she countered.
He looked in his closet and found another outfit. "What's
the matter with this, I'd sure like to know?"
"You've outgrown it, and besides, it's time you got another."
"I never wore it anyway," he said triumphantly, his voice
changing pitch during the sentence.
"This is absolutely ridiculous. We're going down to the
Plaza right now and get you something to wear, so you might as
well get used to the idea."
"This suit works all right. I don't want another one."
"Can you imagine your father going to work In old clothes?
Why, he'd be laughed out of court!"
Douglas said he didn't think it was so funny, and further-
more he couldn't understand what difference it made; for her
part she could not understand why he objected to having new
clothes. But, as always, they ended by going to the Plaza, where
a very nice gray suit was purchased, although on the way
home he said bitterly that he would not ever wear it. He did,
of course, as they both knew he would; it was just that he could
not admit he liked the suit. In fact he decided it was necessary
to claim the suit was giving him a heart attack. Mrs. Bridge
was so startled by this announcement that she was temporarily
unable to reply.
"Well, it is!" he said, and began to stagger and clutch his
chest. "It's too heavy. I can't breathe."
"The only thing wrong with you, my young friend, is your
"Okay, then," he retorted gloomily. And with his head low-
ered he walked slowly away, stopping every few steps to feel
his heart. At the door he hesitated, and before going out he
said truculently, "But I'm just telling you, if I keel over dead,
don't be surprised."
"Very well," she replied, "I won't."
Mrs. Bridge * 87
Maid from Madras
Mr. and Mrs. Bridge were giving a party, not because they
wanted to, but because it was time. Like dinner with the Van
Metres, once you accepted an invitation you were obligated to
reciprocate, or, as Mr. Bridge had once expressed it, retaliate.
Altogether some eighty people showed up in the course of
the evening. They stood around and wandered around, eating,
drinking, talking, and smoking. Grace and Virgil Barron were
there Grace sunburned, freckled, and petite, and looking
rather pensive; the Arlens arrived in a new Chrysler; the
Heywood Duncans were there; and Wilhelm and Susan Van
Metre, both seeming withered, sober, and at the wrong party;
Lois and Stuart Montgomery; Noel Johnson, huge and alone,
wearing a paper cap; Mabel Ong trying to begin serious dis-
cussions; and, among others, the Beckerle sisters in beaded
gowns which must have been twenty years old, both sisters
looking as though they had not for an instant forgotten the
morning Mrs. Bridge entertained them In anklets. Even Dr.
Foster, smiling tolerantly, with a red nose, stopped by for a
cigarette and a whisky sour and chided a number of the men
about Sunday golf.
There was also an automobile salesman named Beachy
Marsh who had arrived very early in a double-breasted pin-
stripe business suit, and, being ill at ease, sensing that he did
not belong, did everything he could think of to be amusing.
88 * Mrs. Bridge
He was not a close friend but It had been necessary to Invite
him along with several others,
Mrs. Bridge rustled about her large, elegant, and brilliantly
lighted home, checking steadily to see that everything was as
it should be. She glanced into the bathrooms every few min-
utes and found that the guest towels, like pastel handkerchiefs,
were still immaculately overlapping one another at eve-
ning's end only two had been disturbed, a fact which would
have given Douglas, had he known, a morose satisfaction
and she entered the kitchen once to recommend that the extra
servant girl, hired to assist Harriet, pin shut the gap in the
breast of her starched uniform.
Around and around went Mrs. Bridge, graciously smiling,
pausing here and there to chat for a moment, but forever alert,
checking the turkey sandwiches, the crackers, the barbecued
sausages, quietly opening windows to let out the smoke, dis-
creetly removing wet glasses from mahogany table tops, slip
ping away now and then to empty the solid Swedish crystal
And Beachy Marsh got drunk. He slapped people on the
shoulder, told jokes, laughed uproariously, and also went
around emptying the ashtrays of their cherry-colored stubs, all
the while attempting to control the tips of his shirt collar,
which had become damp from perspiration and were rolling
up into the air like horns.
Following Mrs. Bridge halfway up the carpeted stairs he said
hopefully, "There was a young maid from Madras, who had a
magnificent ass; not rounded and pink, as you probably think
it was gray, had long ears, and ate grass."
"Oh, my word!" replied Mrs. Bridge, looking over her
shoulder with a polite smile but continuing up the stairs,
while the auto salesman plucked miserably at his collar.
Mrs. Bridge * 89
Revolt of the Masses
The evenings were growing cooler, September was here, au-
tumn not far to the north, and the trees rustled uneasily.
Having ordered the groceries and having spent the re-
mainder of the morning more or less listening to the radio, and
being then unable to find anything else to do, she informed
Harriet who was In the kitchen furiously smoking one ciga-
rette after another while cutting up dates for a pudding that
she had some shopping to take care of on the Plaza and would
not be home until late that afternoon. She felt somewhat
guilty as she said this because in reality there was no shopping
to be done, but, with the children again in school and with
Harriet to do the cooking and housekeeping and with the
laundress coming once a week to do the washing, Mrs. Bridge
found the days were very long. She was restless and unhappy
and would spend hours thinking wistfully of the past, of those
years Just after her marriage when a day was all too brief.
After luncheon in her favorite tearoom she decided she
might as well look at candlesticks. She had been thinking of
getting some new ones; this seemed as good a time as any. On
her way to Bancroft's, which carried the nicest things on the
Plaza, she stopped at a drugstore for a box of aspirin, then
paused In front of a bookstore where her eye was caught by the
title of a book in the window display: Theory of the Leisure
Class. She experienced a surge of resentment. For a number of
go # Mrs. Bridge
seconds she eyed this book with definite hostility, as though it
were alive and conscious of her. She went inside and asked to
see the book. With her gloves on it was difficult to turn the
pages, so she handed it back to the clerk, thanked him, and
with a dissatisfied expression continued to Bancroft's.
If she bought a book it was almost always one of three things:
a best-seller she had heard about or seen advertised, a self-
improvement book, or a book by a Kansas City author no
matter what it was about. These latter were infrequent, but
now and again somebody would explode in the midst of
Kansas City with a Civil War history or an account of old
Westport Landing. Then, too, there were slender volumes of
verse and essays usually printed by local publishing houses,
and it was one of these that lay about the living room longer
than any other book, with the exception of an extremely old
two-volume set of The Brothers Karamazov in gold-painted
leather which nobody in the family had ever read and which
had belonged to Mr. Bridge's grandfather. This set rested
gravely on the mantelpiece between a pair of bronze Indian-
chief heads the only gift from cousin Lulubelle Watts that
Mrs. Bridge had ever been able to use and was dusted once a
week by Harriet with a peacock-feather duster.
The volume that ran second to The Brothers Karamazov
Mrs. Bridge * 91
was a collection of thoughts by the local minister, Dr. Foster,
an exceptionally short and congenial man with an enormous
head which was always referred to as leonine, and which was
crowned with golden white hair. He allowed his hair to grow
very long and he brushed it toward the top of his head so as to
appear taller. He had written these essays over a period of
several years with the idea of putting them into book form,
and from time to time he w r ould allude to them, laughingly,
as his memoirs. Then people would exclaim that he surely
mustn't keep them to himself until he died, at which Dr.
Foster, touching the speaker's arm, and perhaps rising on
tiptoe, would laugh heartily and reply, "We'll see, well see,"
and thereupon clear his throat.
At last, when he had been preaching in Kansas City for
seventeen years and his name was recognized, and he was often
mentioned in The Tattler and sometimes in the city paper,
a small publishing firm took these essays, which he had quietly
submitted to them several times before. The book came out in
a black cover with a dignified gray and purple dust jacket that
showed him gazing sedately from his study window at dusk,
hands clasped behind his back and one foot slightly forward.
The first essay began: "I am now seated at my desk, the desk
that has been a source of comfort and inspiration to me these
many years. I see that night is falling, the shadows creeping
gently across my small but (to my eyes) lovely garden, and at
such times as this I often reflect on the state of Mankind."
Mrs. Bridge read Dr. Foster's book, which he had auto-
graphed for her, and she was amazed to find that he was such
a reflective man, and so sensitive to the sunrise which she dis-
covered he always got up to watch. She underlined several
passages in the book that seemed to have particular meaning
for her, and when It was done she was able to discuss it with
her friends, all of whom were reading it.
This book came to her like an olive branch. It assured her
g2 # Mrs. Bridge
of God's love for man, of man's love of God: in the ever-
lengthening shadow of Hitler and Mussolini her faith was
restored, and the comfortable meditations of her minister
Quite a different sort of writer was Mabel Ong. There were
persistent rumors that Mabel was a poet supposedly quite
good and that one of her poems had been published in a
magazine. Mrs. Bridge, having made discreet inquiries which
failed to elicit either the name of the magazine or the title of
the poem, was therefore pleased to hear Lois Montgomery
announce that as a special treat immediately following the
next Auxiliary meeting Mabel would read from her works.
She was a vigorous, muscular woman of about thirty-five, with
a sprinkling of moles on her forehead, and close-cropped hair,
who generally wore a tweed coat and stood with her hands
thrust into the pockets like a man. She had a positive manner
of speaking, now and then turning her head aside to cough or
to laugh; she spoke bitterly about capitalism and would relate
stories she had heard from unquestionable sources about
women dying in childbirth because they could not afford the
high cost of hospitalization, or even the cost of insurance
"If I should bear a child " she was fond of beginning, and
would then tear into medical fees.
Mrs. Bridge * 93
On the appointed day Mabel Ong walked briskly to the
front of the room, carrying a briefcase as though it were a
book, and having placed this briefcase on a card table she un-
zipped it, spent several minutes shuffling through some papers,
frowning, but eventually located whatever she was after. She
poured herself a drink of ice water from the pitcher, lighted
a cigarette, and with one eye closed against the smoke she
shuffled through the papers again, Mrs. Bridge watched atten-
tively, thinking that Mabel certainly looked capable of being
After another drink of water she crushed out her cigarette,
ran her tongue over her teeth, and pensively frowned into
space. All at once she began:
"Out of the wild womb weeping "
Mabel was just a bit tongue-tied and Mrs, Bridge, in the
back row, was not certain whether she had said "weeping" or
"leaping/* but decided not to inquire. When the reading con-
cluded she applauded along with everyone else, and she stood
around for a while and listened as various members of the
Auxiliary asked Mabel about the significance of one line or
another. Mrs, Bridge had not enjoyed the poems they
sounded quite free and not very poetic and she hoped no
one would ask for her opinion of them. No one did, though
on a certain occasion she was rather surprised to hear herself
volunteering the information that she had not cared for them;
and being embarrassed by this critical observation, for she was
conscious of her own limitations, she quickly added, "How-
ever, I'm sure I couldn't do half as well/*
94 * Mrs. Bridge
She had never gone into politics the way some women did,
though she listened attentively whenever such topics as the
farm surplus or public works programs were discussed at
luncheons or at circle meetings; she felt her lack of knowl-
edge and wanted to improve herself, and she often resolved
to buckle down to some serious studying. But so many things
kept popping up, always at the very moment she was about
to begin, and then too she did not know exactly where to
start. Once in a while she would be on the point of ques-
tioning her husband, but, after thinking it over, she realized
she would be asking silly questions, and he was so over-
burdened with business problems that she did not want to
distract him. Besides, there was not much she herself could
This was how she defended herself to Mable Ong after
having incautiously let slip the information that her husband
always told her how to vote.
"Don't you have a mind of your own?" Mabel demanded,
and looked quite grim. "Great Scott, woman! Speak out!
We've been emancipated!" She rocked back and forth, hands
clasped behind her back, while she frowned at the carpet
of the Auxiliary clubhouse.
"You're right, of course," Mrs, Bridge apologized, dis-
creetly avoiding the stream of smoke from Mabel's cigarette.
Mrs. Bridge * 95
"But don't you find it hard to know what to think? There's
so much scandal and fraud everywhere you turn, and 1
suppose the papers only print what they want us to know."
She hesitated, and then spoke out boldly. "How do you
make up your mind?"
Mabel Ong, without removing the cigarette from her lips,
considered the ceiling, the carpet, and squinted critically at
a Degas print on the wall, as though debating how to answer
such an ingenuous question, and finally she suggested that
Mrs. Bridge might begin to grasp the fundamentals by a
deliberate reading of certain books, the titles of which she
jotted down on the margin of a tally card, Mrs. Bridge had
not heard of any of these books except one, and this one
because the author had committed suicide, but she decided
to read it anyway.
The lady at her favorite rental library had never heard
of the book, which was somehow gratifying; even so, having
resolved to read it, Mrs. Bridge set out for the public library.
Here, at last, she got it, and settled down to the deliberate
reading Mabel had advised. The author's name was Zokoloff,
which certainly sounded threatening, and to be sure the first
chapter dealt with bribery in the circuit courts.
When she had gotten far enough along to feel capable
of discussing it she left it on the hall table; however Mr.
Bridge did not even notice it until it had lain there for
three days. She watched him pick it up, saw his nostrils
flatten as he read the title, and then she waited nervously
and excitedly. He opened the book, read a few sentences,
grunted, and dropped the book on the table. This was
disappointing. In fact, now that there was no danger involved,
she had trouble finishing the book; she thought it would be
better in a magazine digest. But eventually she did finish
it and returned it to the library, saying with a slight air of
sophistication, "I can't honestly say I agree with it all, but
he's certainly well informed.**
96 * Mrs. Bridge
Certain arguments of Zokoloff remained with her, and
she found that the longer she thought about them the
more penetrating and logical they became; surely it was
time, as he insisted, for a change in government. She decided
to vote liberal at the next election, and as time for it ap-
proached she became filled with such enthusiasm and with
such great conviction and determination that she planned
to discuss her new attitude with her husband. She became
confident that she could persuade him to change his vote
also. Politics were not mysterious after all. However, when
she challenged him to discussion he did not seem especially
interested; in fact he did not answer. He was studying a
sheaf of legal papers and only glanced across at her with
an annoyed expression. She let it go until the following
evening when he was momentarily unoccupied, and this
time he stared at her curiously, intently, as if probing her
mind, and then all at once he snorted.
She really intended to force a discussion on election eve.
She was going to quote from the book of Zokoloff. But he
came home so late, so exhausted, that she had not the
heart to upset him. She concluded it would be best to let
him vote as he always had, and she would do as she herself
wished; still, on getting to the polls, which were conveniently
located in the country-club shopping district, she became
doubtful and a little uneasy. And when the moment finally
came she pulled the lever recording her wish for the world
to remain as it was.
Oaths and Pledges
At one of the Auxiliary meetings a discussion arose as to
whether it might not be a good idea to amend the constitution
of the Auxiliary so as to include the words "under God."
Throughout this debate Grace Barron gazed out the window.
Everyone else got up to say it was a good idea, except Mabel
Ong being particularly severe in a tailored suit and a string
tie who argued against it, and it was common knowledge
that Mabel, being an intellectual, argued against the
majority rather than against the question. So, late in the
afternoon, the resolution was passed. Of fifty-six ladies
present, fifty-four voted to include God. Mabel was against.
Grace abstained; in fact when her name was called she
jumped and said, "What?"
Mrs. Bridge wished it could have been unanimous; una-
nimity was so gratifying. Every time she heard or read
about a unanimous vote she felt a surge of pride and was
reminded, for some reason, of the Pilgrims. She enjoyed
all kinds of oaths and pledges and took them regularly, re-
maining cautious only if her signature was required; sig-
natures were binding, this she knew, and she was under
the impression that they were often photographed, or forged,
or whatever it was that unscrupulous persons did with sig-
Oral resolutions, however, seemed quite safe and gave
98 # Mrs. Bridge
her a sense of participating, and she liked to discuss them.
Often she could be heard urging ladies she scarcely knew
to join with her and the others, saying, "It might help and
it certainly can't do any harm."
Another Victim of Circumstances
Lois Montgomery was one of the most prominent members
of the Auxiliary. Mrs. Bridge had known her for a good
many years without regarding her in any way special until
one afternoon when, not by accident, Mabel Ong let slip
an allusion to the time when Lois had been raped. Mrs.
Bridge's pleasantly neutral expression did not change, just
as though she knew all about the case, or at least had had
a good deal of experience with that sort of thing, but after-
ward she found out more. Lois Montgomery was now a tall,
stately eagle of a woman with a deep snowy breast and rather
overwhelming perfume. She wore her black hair in a huge
ballerina knot, lacquered, through tiny cracks of which could
be seen a tight roll of false brown hair. Mrs. Bridge would
not have considered her the sort of person a sex maniac would
attack, and yet the story, so far as she could ascertain, was
true. It had taken place years ago when the Montgomerys
were living in Butte, Montana, where Stuart had some kind
of position with the railroad. How the story followed them
from Butte to Kansas City so many years later there was no
means of discovering.
Mrs. Bridge * 99
Mrs. Bridge visualized the scene: Lois In her Fifth Avenue
suit and silver fox boa striding imperially down a dark
Montana street with the Canadian wind howling, and then
the man rising from behind a bush, or stepping quickly
around a tree he was dressed In a shabby suit with the
collar turned up, and he had not shaved, or he could have
been wearing a leather jacket and a mask, a stocking cap
perhaps. She tried to Imagine Lois struggling with him in
the darkness, shrieking for help; she wondered if the man
had choked Lois with the silver fox boa. Afterward there
was the ruined woman collapsed on the sidewalk and the
man running away. Later she was lying in a hospital bed,
having been given a sedative, and there were police lieu-
tenants in their ill-fitting serge suits asking her embarrassing
questions. After that there were relatives and friends who
entered with flowers. The scene always ended in the hospital
when the room was full of flowers and Mrs. Montgomery's
She also thought about Stuart Montgomery and how the
affair must have affected him. She saw him in Kansas City
as a tall, leathery man with a hard, bulbous face like those
carved on bottle openers or on the knobs of canes. He did
not have much to say if she chanced to meet him on the
street with his odd yellow briefcase, and when he tipped
his hat he seldom bothered to smile. She wondered if he
had wept when he learned what had happened, and If he
tried to apologize for having allowed her to go home alone
that night, or whether he had been with her and had been
frightened away by the man's gun. Or had he been struck
over the head? Did he still respect her?
Mrs. Bridge wanted to make some gesture to tell Lois
Montgomery how she sympathized, but, after all, what could
be done when no one ever mentioned It and when Lois
simply stood there smiling and chatting and eating crabmeat
sandwiches like everyone else?
ioo # Mrs. Bridge
During one of the luncheons she got to talking with Grace
Barron about art, the result being that the two of them left
the clubhouse and drove to the William Rockhill Nelson
art gallery and stayed there till it closed. Mrs. Bridge felt
excited and guilty about the way they had gone off by
themselves, but it was how Grace did everything.
Goya, Holbein, Diirer, Corot these names, at once so
familiar and so meaningless to Mrs, Bridge, were old friends
of Grace Barron. And before long Mrs. Bridge knew this was
a day to be remembered, like a day in February when, after
months of lowering skies, the clouds roll back.
A little self-conscious still, not yet ready to let Grace know
what she was intending to do, Mrs. Bridge enrolled in a paint-
ing class for adults at an art school near the gallery. She
bought a kit which contained some paints and brushes, a
palette she had thought all palettes were of that peculiar
ornamental shape and was slightly disappointed to find
the one in her kit was plainly rectangular and a bottle of
linseed oil and a bottle of turpentine, along with two metal
cups which the clerk told her were to be used for the tur-
pentine and the oil. She also bought a sugar sack for wiping
the brushes, and a smock embroidered with bluebirds, and
thus equipped she began her art lessons three evenings a week.
She attended regularly for almost a month, skipped one night,
Mrs. Bridge * 101
got to several more, skipped three, attended spasmodically
for another month, and finally dropped out altogether. But
while she did paint she painted with a certain gusto and feel-
ing, and with not a bad eye. The instructor once or twice
gave her nice compliments and encouraged her to continue.
He was a morose and rumpled little man of about forty with
strong breath and bags under his eyes, who was in the habit
of scratching his head and saying, "Well, let's see, folks, to-
night why don't w r e sort of let ourselves go?"
Occasionally there would be a model in costume, often an
elderly immigrant in boots and a kerchief; sometimes they
would paint an arrangement of driftwood and wine bottles.
But one evening the instructor, whose name was Gadbury,
told them to try a subject from mythology and work from
imagination. He suggested Wotan as a subject, but added that
they might do anything they wished. Mrs. Bridge could not
recall anything about Wotan, but she did remember with
stark clarity the legend of Leda and the swan. She proceeded
to paint a small, zinc-white swan and a Leda standing stiffly
erect, with hands behind her back and ankle-deep in water
because hands and feet always gave her trouble, and she
clothed Leda in a flowered dressmaker bathing suit not unlike
Mr. Gadbury, making his rounds, stood for a while looking
over her shoulder at this Leda and at last said he thought
the lake was too blue.
102 * Mrs. Bridge
She spent a great deal of time staring into space, oppressed
by the sense that she was waiting. But waiting for what? She
did not know. Surely someone would call, someone must be
needing her. Yet each day proceeded like the one before.
Nothing intense, nothing desperate, ever happened. Time
did not move. The home, the city, the nation, and life itself
were eternal; still she had a foreboding that one day, with-
out warning and without pity, all the dear, important things
would be destroyed. So it was that her thoughts now and then
turned deviously deeper, spiraling down and down in search
of the final recess, of life more immutable than the life she
had bequeathed in the birth of her children.
One fathomless instant occurred on a windy, rainy night
when Harriet had gone to church, and the children were
out, and only she and her husband remained at home. For
some time, perhaps an hour or more, they had been reading,
separately; he had the financial page of the newspaper and
she had been idly reading of the weddings that day. The
rain blew softly against the windowpanes, shutters rattled,
and above the front door the tin weather stripping began to
moan. Mrs. Bridge, with the newspaper in her lap, listened
to the rumbling and booming of thunder over the house.
Suddenly, in total quiet, the room was illuminated by light-
ning. Mr. Bridge lifted his head, only that and nothing more,
Mrs. Bridge * 103
but within Mrs. Bridge something stirred. She looked at her
"Did the clock strike?" he asked.
"No, I don't believe so/* she answered, waiting.
He cleared his throat. He adjusted his glasses. He con-
She never forgot this moment when she had almost appre-
hended the very meaning of life, and of the stars and planets,
yes, and the flight of the earth.
The one person she ever met who surely had experienced
similar moments was a Russian-Italian-Hungarian countess
who passed through Kansas City like a leaf in the wind.
"The Countess Mariska Mihailova Strozzi," was how Lois
Montgomery, who was the newly elected president of the
Auxiliary, introduced her at luncheon.
"Ladies," the countess began, and went on talking for an
hour, but it was an hour that seemed like a minute. No one
whispered, no one left the room. The countess was electrify-
ing, and the women who missed hearing her were told about
her for months afterward. She was born in Shanghai, the
daughter of an elderly Russian diplomat who, until an
intrigue at the court, had been a close friend of Czar Nicholas
II. The family had been exiled, there had been murders,
abductions, espionage, and no one knew what else. At four-
104 * ^ rs * Bridge
teen she was married to an Italian millionaire who claimed
direct descent from the great Renaissance family which op-
posed the Medici, but she had run away from him. Later
she married a rich Greek. Now she was divorced and on her
way to San Francisco at the invitation of a munitions maker.
She talked of her experiences, but mostly of the Nazis, and
there was a rumor that just before coming to America she
had killed a Nazi colonel with his own revolver. Mrs. Bridge,
sitting in the front row, looking up into the glittering violet
eyes, could easily believe it.
The countess was quite small and chic, and wore a black
sheath dress. Her only jewelry was a large star sapphire that
accentuated a strange bluish-white scar across the back of her
hand. Mrs, Bridge was certain everyone was dying to know
what had caused the scar, but no one dared ask. It was only
one of the mysteries of the countess. She was delicate and
utterly feminine, but at the same she was as blunt as a man.
It was clear she had been witness to many kinds of folly and
wisdom and agony and joy. Once she paused and leisurely
fitted a European cigarette into an ebony holder; several
minutes must have gone by while she smoked and stared
over the heads of her audience, but they were so transfixed
that no one moved. Tamping out the cigarette, she con-
tinued in her perfect, heavy English, "We must destroy the
Fascist. . . ."
Later Mrs. Bridge introduced herself to the countess, fox
that was what everyone else was doing, and for a minute or
so they chatted. Two things Mrs. Bridge remembered about
her: the first was a fresh red bruise on the tiny golden throat,
a bruise such as a man's mouth would leave, and the second
was that husky voice murmuring, "To be afraid is, I tell you,
Madame, the most terrible thing in the world/'
Mrs. Bridge & 105
Not long after the countess left for San Francisco and the
hospitable munitions maker, Mrs. Bridge was having lunch
on the Plaza with Grace Barron. Grace seemed despondent,
and Mrs. Bridge, thinking to cheer her up, looked into her
tea cup and pretended to be studying the leaves. Laying one
finger alongside her nose she said, "My gypsy blood tells me
"My fortune?** asked Grace absently. "I know my fortune/*
And then, while Mrs. Bridge stared at her in frightened
amazement, two large tears came rolling down her cheeks.
Whether it was in the pattern of the leaves, or in Grace
herself, Mrs. Bridge could not be sure, but at a cocktail party
honoring Mrs. Albert Tate, who was packing for a voyage
io6 * Mrs. Bridge
around the world, Grace became unreasonable. The affair
was held in the Arlens' new yellow brick Colonial on Shoat
Drive and there were over one hundred people present. Ac-
cording to the invitations the party was to be from six till
nine-thirty, but at ten o'clock the crowd was as thick as ever,
and about that time the word began spreading that Grace
Barren was in the basement recreation room having an argu-
ment with the host,
" ethnocentricism, that's what!" Grace was saying just as
Mrs. Bridge hurried anxiously down the basement steps.
Russ Arlen scowled and muttered. Grace took a long drink
from a martini glass and smacked her lips.
"Furthermore," she announced to the crowd, "if we go to
war again do you know who I accuse? The American press!
Scare headlines sell copies. I accuse. Monsieur, j 'accuse!"
Andrew Koeppel, who had been congratulated throughout
the evening for having bought another hotel, suggested, "Let
me put in a word. A few minutes ago you mentioned some
Semite friend of yours who thought a pogrom was as likely
in this country as in Germany. Let me tell you: Nazi Ger-
many is the most fascistic nation on the face of this earth,
and if your friend doesn't like it here, let her go back. I've
fought the Jews for whatever I own and I intend to keep it.
My father, mind you, came to this country without a penny
in his pocket and by the time he was thirty-six years old "
Here he began a long and rather uninteresting story having
to do with pulling up cornstalks for eleven cents a day.
Attention gradually was reverting to Grace when there
came shouts from upstairs of 'Tire! Fire!" and everyone
crowded the stairway, cocktail glasses in hand. There was
indeed a fire, but not in the house. Somehow the back seat
of the Ralph Porters' Cadillac had begun to smoulder. An
alarm was not turned in for quite a while because everyone
assumed someone else had taken care of it, but eventually
a fire engine came clanging up Ward Parkway and swerved
Mrs. Bridge * 107
Into Shoat Drive, one of the ladders scratching the fenders
of several automobiles, and the firemen broke the window
of the Cadillac and began spraying the rear seat. Smoke
billowed out while Mrs. Porter wept and begged them to
stop. The firemen believed a cigarette stub had caused it,
but the Beckerle sisters, who had been riding in the back
seat, denied this. A few minutes later almost everybody had
returned to the house, and Grace was at It again, this time
in the library under a full-length portrait of Madge, Mrs.
Bridge entered the library to hear Grace saying, ** and the
Modocs and the Nez Perce! And the Mimbreno Apache, the
Teton Sioux, and duster's deliberate violation of the treaty
of eighteen-sixty-eight and "
"Shrimp, anybody?*' It was Madge hurrying in to save the
day, followed by her new maid, who was carrying an immense
silver platter heaped with hors d'oeuvres.
"I want another drink," Grace announced. "And what
about the Seminoles? They never harmed us but we invaded
their swamps and cut them to ribbons/'
Mrs. Bridge felt the discussion to be beyond her depth,
but, in hopes of moderating what could turn into an un-
fortunate scene, she asked hopefully, "It does sound as though
we've done some dreadful things, Grace, but Isn't It possible
that when you investigate fully you'll discover the Seminoles
The conversation continued for some time, Grace Banron
being the center of it all, arguing now against censoring
books, now against opening the mail of suspected Fascists
and Communists. Once or twice Mrs. Bridge attempted to
direct the conversation elsewhere, praising the somewhat
regal portrait of Madge under which they were standing, and
also trying the fire in the Cadillac, but at the very moment
she was about to succeed, Grace herself would irritate some-
one all over again.
There were several echoes of this evening. The very next
io8 * Mrs. Bridge
night someone unbuckled the windshield wipers from the
Barrens' automobile, which had been parked on the street
in front of their home. The wipers were found in the gutter
a few yards away, twisted out of shape.
The scoutmaster of David Barren's troop received an
anonymous letter telling him to watch young Barron. The
scoutmaster, who had never before gotten such a letter, did
not know what to do with it, and being very much agitated
he gave it to Dr. Foster, who telephoned the police and talked
for a long time on various subjects before telling them why
he had called, The letter had a postscript demanding to know
how many years young Barron had been playing the violin
and adding triumphantly that he had not been invited to
join a high-school fraternity.
Days passed. It seemed the affair was being forgotten. Then
Madge Arlen happened to remark that her husband had
switched accounts from Virgil Barren's bank to the Security
"Oh, my word!" Mrs. Bridge breathed. "What did Virgil
"Russ told me he didn't open his mouth." Madge paused
to light a cigarette and shake out the match. After inhaling
deeply she said, "We weren't the first to change."
Mrs. Bridge thought for an instant she was going to faint,
and even as her head stopped whirling she heard herself
remarking in a sympathetic tone, " suppose it was the best
Mrs. Bridge * log
The Private World of Wilhelm and Susan
Quite possibly the only persons unaware of Grace Barren's
Indiscretion were Wilhelm and Susan Van Metre.
"We chanced to be driving this way/' Wilhelm Van Metre
said, having cleared his throat twice in the midst of the
remark, "and I said to Mrs. Van Metre, 'Susan, as long as
we are in this neighborhood it might not be a bad idea
to stop for a nice little visit with the Bridges/ " He cleared
his throat again. "I seem to be having some slight difficulty
with my vocal apparatus. But at any rate, Susan agreed with
me/ 1 He turned to smile at her.
"What a nice surprise!" Mrs. Bridge replied. "Here, let
me take your coats/* And going to the bottom of the stairs
she called, "Walter! Guess who's here?" This meant he
was to put away his detective magazine or his vacation
brochures or whatever he was looking at, and get out of
bed and get dressed and come down.
"Now!" she resumed, having gotten them seated and
having told Harriet to fix some tea, "Now, tell me what's
new with you all?"
Wilhelm chuckled and slapped his knee. "Susan, did you
hear India? Now you tell me/* he continued, addressing his
wife, "does anything new or extraordinary ever happen to
us? Not much, I'm afraid, not much/' He leaned back and
touched his nostrils one after the other as though to prevent
himself from sneezing. "No, not very much, not much/*
no * Airs. Bridge
It was quite a while before Mr. Bridge came downstairs
to join the conversation; lie had recognized the voices and
was in no hurry. Then, for about three hours, they sat in
the living room with the pot of tea. Mrs. Bridge, w r ho was
afraid her husband might walk out of the room and go
back to bed, attempted to keep the conversation going; she
also tried to get them to play a horse-racing game which
w T as quite popular, and then she suggested cards. Wilhelm
had a better idea; he thought he might tackle Mr. Bridge for
a round of dominoes. How r ever there w r ere no dominoes in
the house. Wilhelm suggested chess; there was no chess set.
For a moment it looked as though Wilhelm might drive
home to get his own chess set. Finally Mrs. Bridge got him
off this subject. Presently he asked their opinion of the ballet
troupe that had just completed an engagement in Kansas
"Oh, goodness/' she said quickly, "now let me see the
ballet yes, it was in town, wasn't it, because Grace Barron
"I found the interpretation of the premier danseur rather
too old-fashioned," said Wilhelm, tapping his fingertips and
frowning, "Although Susan, if memory serves, thought not,
especially the 'Swan Lake/ We both enjoy 'Swan Lake.' "
He also inquired if Mrs. Bridge agreed with the criticism of
Kafka in the latest issue of a literary review.
"I'm afraid I missed that altogether/' she replied. She
had never heard of the magazine.
And eventually, inevitably, the conversation turned upon
engineering because Wilhelm had been an engineer for thirty
years. In spite of his experience, he said, "I have found it
inexpedient to rely on memory. I place my faith in instru-
ments. You may or may not, India, be familiar with the log-
log duplex decitrix/' He paused, lifting his bushy white
"I'm afraid I'm not," she said.
Mrs. Bridge * ni
"Well, since you are not an engineer that Is excusable/' he
said, chuckling. "But I can tell you that In a tight spot there
is nothing to help a man out like the duplex decltrix."
Mrs. Bridge replied that It sounded dreadfully complicated,
and later, as they were leaving, said she hoped they would
stop by again before long.
Sir William and Sir Thomas
The Van Metres had a disconcerting habit of believing what
people said. Mrs. Bridge, having expressed the hope they
would stop by again, forgot about them. Yet two weeks had
not passed before they came for another nice little visit.
She pretended to be glad to see them. They drank several
pots of tea and seemed not to be aware of the long periods
of silence. Mrs. Bridge desperately tried to prevent silences,
and ordinarily she succeeded, but with the Van Metres it
was an awful job. She was grateful when either of them began
to speak because it gave her a moment to rest and to think
of another topic. Susan very seldom had a word to offer;
Wilhelm would be lost in thought for half an hour, after
which he might take the next half hour to tell an anecdote.
On this occasion he took very nearly that long to relate a
tale about two sixteenth-century gentlemen: Sir William
Roper and the lord chancellor of England whose name was
Sir Thomas More. It seems that Sir William came calling
on Sir Thomas with a proposal to marry one of his daughters.
112 * Mrs. Bridge
Sir Thomas, being agreeable to this Idea, led Sir William to
the bedside of his daughters and whipped off the covers.
The two girls were lying on their backs with their smocks
up as high as their armpits. They at once rolled over on
their bellies. Sir William said, "I have seen both sides." He
then patted one of the girls on the buttocks, and said, "Thou
"Well," observed Mrs. Bridge the moment the story ended,
"I'm certainly thankful times have changed."
The Low-pressure Salesman
A few days after this visit with the Van Metres another old
acquaintance turned up. Mrs. Bridge was in the breakfast
room wondering what to do how to occupy herself till
noon when Harriet entered to say there was a man at the
"What does he want?*"
"That's what I asked him, and he wouldn't say."
"Didn't he give his name?"
"No name," said Harriet, "and he looks suspicious/*
Everyone looked suspicious to Harriet. Mrs. Bridge, after a
moment of thought, got up and walked through the kitchen
to the back door. It was snowing outside, and on the back
step was a stoop-shouldered little man with a woeful ex-
pression who was shivering uncontrollably and stamping
his feet. On seeing her he attempted a smile and his mouth
Mrs. Bridge # 113
formed the word "Hello." Mrs. Bridge could not think where
she had seen him; then she remembered the art Instructor
In whose evening class she had done some painting. Opening
the door, but leaving the glass storm door locked, she said,
"Why, it's Mr. Gadbury!" For some reason he did look
suspicious, and more lost and defeated than In his studio.
He was attempting to speak; his words were Inaudible
through the storm door. Mrs. Bridge, conscious of Harriet's
premonition, despite the familiarity of it, was therefore
reluctant to let him In.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" she inquired.
A flurry of snow swept over him. He tried once more to
smile. He was not a stranger, but on the other hand he was
not exactly a friend who had come calling. He did not appear
to have been drinking, In spite of his red nose, nor did he
look violent; so she disregarded Harriet who was standing
with her arms crossed, emphatically shaking her head and
unlocked the door.
**Won't you step in y Mr. Gadbury? It must be cold out
Gadbury stepped In. His teeth were clattering and he
walked with difficulty. He looked as though he had been
out in the snow for hours. He followed her into the living
room with his hat in his hands, glancing behind to see if
he was leaving tracks on the carpet, and he was. She invited
him to sit down. He did so, and finding no place to put his
wet hat he hung It on his knee. He shivered constantly. He
had turned a mottled yellow and grayish-blue color like a
piece of sausage that had been in the refrigerator for several
weeks, with the exception of his moist red nose. He twitched
and jerked and did not seem to be breathing. He made no
attempt to speak. His chin was tucked into his collar, his
knees knocked together, and his feet occasionally sprang
off the floor of their own accord.
Mrs. Bridge, having observed him, said, "I'm going to have
ii4 * Mrs. Bridge
Harriet fix you some hot tea/' She got up and walked across
the room to the bell pull. The bell pull was a strip of
material about eight feet long, resembling a sample of
Persian rug, which was suspended from a lever near the
ceiling. It hung down against the wall alongside the highboy.
It was actually simpler to step into the kitchen and speak
directly to Harriet, but whenever there were guests Mrs.
Bridge used the bell pull. She took hold of it about tw T o
feet from the bottom and gave a slow, gentle tug; she
could never quite get over the feeling that someday w r hen
the room was full of people she would pull it and it would
fall down around her neck like a Catholic chasuble. Presently
Harriet appeared, looking overly insouciant, as though she
suspected an intrigue.
"I believe we would like some tea," said Mrs. Bridge.
She then returned to her chair and waited for Mr. Gadbury
to speak, but he made no effort to do so. He continued to
twitch and shiver. She heartily wished he would think of
some way to stop his teeth from chattering.
Finding that she was observing him, Gadbury drew a
handkerchief from the pocket of his coat and weakly blew
his nose, and said, "I'm pretty cold."
"I'm sure you must be," replied Mrs. Bridge. "The paper
says it got down to zero at six o'clock this morning/*
Harriet reappeared wheeling the cart. She rolled it to
a stop in front of Mrs. Bridge, who then poured out the
tea, Harriet delivered a cup to Gadbury, who drank It at
once and who then looked very hopefully and earnestly at
the cart where the silver tea pot stood.
"Would you care for another cup, Mr. Gadbury?"
He said that would be nice, so he had another, and before
long he had another.
"How's the painting coming along?" he asked.
"I haven't had a spare moment in weeks, Mr. Gadbury/*
Mrs. Bridge * 115
"I sure remember that malachite sherry bottle/* he said.
There was a pause. "You really let yourself go on that one."
Mrs. Bridge smiled courteously. She waited for him to
state his business. Gadbury stared around the room. He began
to squint at an etching of a cathedral that occupied the space
above the sofa. No one in the family had looked at it for
"I don't know about that/* Gadbury said, studying It
intently. "Maybe, but then again maybe not. There's a
quality, all right." He discovered the water which had been
dripping on the carpet from his hat and his coat, and
nervously placed his foot on a soggy spot. At length he became
aware that she was waiting for him to explain the visit, so
he worked out of his pocket a crumpled little magazine which
was titled The Dob er man, and he held this up for her to
"Oh?" said Mrs. Bridge.
"I don't guess you or Mr. Bridge'd be much interested in
subscribing to this, would you?"
She had suspected he was selling something, and she knew
that whatever it might be she would have no use for it.
"I really hadn't planned on subscribing to any more
magazines, Mr. Gadbury/*
He nodded in complete understanding. "You wouldn't
want it unless you had a Doberman/* Then an idea came
to him and he sat erect and asked, "You don't have one, do
"No, we don't/'
"Nobody does/* he said despondently. "They eat an awful
lot, I think."
"Oh? Don't you have one?"
"No. But when I was a boy I used to have a dog/* He
looked to see if this fact would arouse her interest. Finding
it did not, after wiping his nose on his sleeve, he considered
n6 * Mrs. Bridge
his magazine and launched Into a sales talk. "This Issue
tells about one who wouldn't eat anything except sirloin
steak and worked for the police department in Toledo/'
He mulled over this information and added pertinently,
"Its name was Lieutenant." Suddenly he opened the mag-
azine to the center spread, which had snapshots of nine
Dobermans, and he held this up for her to see.
"My, they're ferocious looking, aren't they?"
Gadbury then had another look at the photographs. "I
guess so. I hadn't thought about It."
Mrs. Bridge tipped her head slightly to Indicate she was
considering the pictures further. Gadbury became enthu-
"This magazine comes out every month," he said. He was
overtaken by a chill; he shivered, sniffled, stamped his feet,
and looked around wildly. "It tells how you train these dogs/*
he said, speaking with great rapidity, "and, ah, eeehe-he-ahha-
sha!" sneezed Mr. Gadbury. "I've got a cold/' he said feebly,
and then the life went out of him and he sat with his head
bowed, silent, while a few more drops of water sank into the
carpet. "It isn't that the school doesn't pay a living wage,"
he went on without lifting his head. "It's just that my
daughter got in trouble and now she's in the hospital. I
didn't know hospital bills were so high/* He rolled the
magazine Into a tube and began striking it against his
"Do you sell many subscriptions?"
Gadbury made no attempt to answer.
"How long have you been at it?" she asked.
"About two months," he said quietly.
Mrs. Bridge took a deep breath and clasped her hands.
"Tell me, Mr. Gadbury, tell me the truth. Have you sold any
"No. But there was a lady the week before last who said
she'd ask her husband/'
Mrs. Bridge * 117
"All right/* said Mrs. Bridge. "You may put me down for
Gadbury raised his head and looked at her in grave
Second Lesson in Spanish
While cleaning out the back-hall closet she came upon the
phonograph records and the booklet on how to speak Spanish.
The records were covered with dust and one o them was
broken. On an Impulse she let the closet remain as it was;
she carried the records Into the living room and placed
the unbroken ones on the phonograph. Then she seated
herself with the booklet to refresh her memory, and finding
that she could recall the procedure with no difficulty she
set the needle on the first record.
"Buenas dias, Senora Brown. C6mo estd usted?"
"Buenas dias, Senor Garreiio. Muy bien, gracias. Y usted?"
At the pause she was ready, "Buenas dias, Senor Carreno/*
she said pleasantly. "Muy bien, gracias. Y usted?**
The record squeaked and clicked, clicked again, and
continued, Senor Carreno remarked that Senora Brown was
in Madrid. Senora Brown evidently realized this.
"Estoy in Madrid/*
"Estoy in Madrid," Mrs, Bridge repeated.
From upstairs Carolyn called, "Mother!"
n8 # Mrs. Bridge
"What is it, dear?" Mrs. Bridge called.
"La gusta Madrid?"
With a sigh Mrs. Bridge got up and walked to the bottom
of the stairs. "What is it, Corky? I'm busy right now."
"I can't find my saddle shoes/*
Mrs. Bridge returned to the living room, turned off the
phonograph, and came back to stand with one hand on the
newel post. "I couldn't hear you, dear. What did you say?"
"What happened to my saddle shoes? I left them, out for
Harriet to clean but they aren't here."
Mrs. Bridge began climbing the stairs, because there was
bound to be an argument and she did not like shouting back
and forth. "I gave them to the laundress. They were simply
too filthy to be worn."
Carolyn moaned and rocked on her heels, this being the
current method of expressing agony. "What am I going
to wear to the mixer?"
Mrs. Bridge had stopped to catch her breath on the landing.
Now she continued around the turn and up the remaining
"Well, dear, you certainly can't wear saddle shoes to a
Carolyn spoke slowly and distinctly. "It isn't a dance,
Mother, it's a mixer. It's in the gymnasium after school."
"I thought you danced at a mixer."
"You do, but it's different. Totally/' Carolyn was rocking
on her heels again. "I mean, it's already practically the end
of my free period and I've got to get back for Latin and
obviously you don't expect a person to wear these Indian
skins even if it is a mixer. Fortunately/' She held out one
small moccasined foot and wiggled the toe.
"I should think you'd want to wear your new brown
oxfords. They certainly cost enough/*
Mrs. Bridge * 119
"Oh, ugh! I mean, you're so behind."
"I suppose so/" Mrs. Bridge responded drily. "But I'll
thank you not to be Impertinent/'
"Oh, I'm sorry, Mother, but after all this Is utterly tragic.
I mean, let's not be bland."
"Well, let's see, I suppose die only solution Is to drive
to the Plaza and get you a new pair of saddle shoes."
"There Isn't time! I mean 1 have this pathetic Latin!"
"Oh, dear/* said Mrs. Bridge wearily, for It seemed such
problems were always arising. "I'm supposed to pick up
Madge Arlen at two o'clock, but I suppose If you must have
them I can run down to the Plaza right now and deliver them
to you at school. I honestly believe half my life has been
spent arranging the family schedule."
Carolyn, who did not want anyone to see her mother
delivering a pair o shoes, said, "Just leave them in the
Everyone made use of the back door whenever It was
convenient, but Douglas seemed to prefer it she had noticed
that when he came home from school, although approaching
the house from the front, he was apt to go all the way around
and come in through the back. From the window of her
sewing room upstairs she had seen him do this. She was
distressed by his habit because It was customary for members
iso * Mrs. Bridge
of the family and guests to enter and leave by the front,
the back door being used principally by the laundress and
the various delivery boys, and by Harriet.
One day at lunch, unable to stand it any longer, she
abruptly asked, "Do you have back-door-itis?"
Douglas had just started eating chipped beef; he lowered
his knife and fork and gazed at her in stupefaction.
"You need another haircut/' she said automatically, no-
ticing how shaggy he looked. "And take that pencil from
behind your ear. People will think you're a grocery clerk."
"What?" said Douglas, blinking.
"What on earth possesses you to always use the back door?"
"I don't know," said Douglas.
"Well, then/' said Mrs. Bridge, "why don't you do like
Douglas appeared to be thinking this over. Finally he said
in the same vacuous tone, "I don't know."
"Well," said Mrs. Bridge, "as long as we have a front door
we might as well use it."
Douglas said he guessed that was right, but he did not
There was no end to the problems of adolescence. Carolyn
was beginning to blossom, not only in front but in back, and
as she had gotten into the habit of walking with her spine
Mrs. Bridge * 121
unnecessarily arched she soon became known among the
high school boys as "Rumpy/* One of these boys, calling
for the first time at her home, absently referred to her by
that name. The next day Mrs. Bridge, who was crocheting
a nice muffler in case anybody wanted one, asked her about
"That's nothing. You should hear what they call Ruth/'
Mrs. Bridge resumed crocheting with a displeased ex-
The Chrysler and the Comb
Mrs. Bridge, emptying wastebaskets, discovered a dirty comb
in Ruth's basket.
'"What's this doing here?" Ruth inquired late that after-
noon when she got home and found the comb on her
"I found it in the wastebasket. What was it doing there!"
Ruth said she had thrown it away.
"Do you think we're made of money?" Mrs. Bridge de-
manded. "When a comb gets dirty you don't throw it away,
you wash it, young lady."
"It cost a nickel/* Ruth said angrily. She flung her books
onto the bed and stripped off her sweater.
"Nickels don't grow on trees/* replied Mrs. Bridge, ir-
ritated by her manner.
122 * Airs. Bridge
"Nickels don't grow on trees," Ruth echoed. She was
standing by the window with her hands on her hips; now,
exasperated, she pointed to her father's new Chrysler, which
was just then turning into the driveway.
"Put the comb in a basin of warm water with a little
ammonia and let it soak/' Mrs. Bridge went on. 'In a few
minutes you can rinse the "
"I know, I know, I know!" Ruth unzipped her skirt, stepped
out of it, and threw it at the closet. She sat down on her
bed and began to file her nails.
"So is a nickel going to break us up?** she asked, scowling.
"I wash my comb and I expect you to do the same. It
won't hurt either of us/* replied Mrs. Bridge. "Taking out
without putting in will soon reach bottom/* she added and
left the room, shutting the door behind her.
For a few minutes Ruth sat on the bed quietly filing her
nails and chewing her lower lip; then she snatched the comb
and broke it in halt
Christianity meant nothing to Ruth, at least so far as Mrs.
Bridge could determine. Ruth went to church reluctantly,
sullen and uncommunicative, until she was old enough to
defy her mother, knowing her father did not care if she
went or not; and when Mrs. Bridge pleaded with her, saying,
"Goodness, anyone would think you were a South Sea Is-
Mrs. Bridge * 123
lander!" Ruth only sighed and murmured, "Mother, let me
Douglas reacted quite differently; lie objected strenuously
when he was a small boy, but later, discovering the church
had a basketball team on which he might play i he attended
with reasonable regularity, he became more manageable.
Carolyn was no trouble at all. As a child she seemed to
enjoy Sunday school, and when she was fourteen she joined
the choir. Before long she was reading her Bible at home
during the week and, on Sundays, listening quite attentively
to the mellow sermons of Dr. Foster. She also joined the
Wednesday evening group of teen-agers who met In the
Mrs. Bridge customarily drove Carolyn to these Wednesday
evening meetings and allowed one of the older boys or
girls to bring her home. She felt a deep sense of pleasure, a
pleasure that bordered on real happiness, whenever she
thought of Carolyn's participation. She herself had never
grown as close to the church as she would have liked, though
she did not know quite why, and in consequence she blamed
herself for Ruth's failure, and, to a lesser extent, for the
fact that If it were not for the basketball team Douglas
would drop out, Mrs. Bridge felt proud and reassured each
Wednesday evening. There, on the church steps, she beheld
a group of nicely dressed, clean, smiling, courteous young
people. Invariably they appeared cheerful and confident.
Surely, these faces told her, no evil can befall us. Surely,
she thought, none would.
The choir, the Sunday sermons, the Wednesday evening
group all this failed to satisfy Carolyn's appetite for
religious experience. She became Insatiable. She spent hours
reading the Bible; she read the Apocrypha; she had long
talks with Dr. Foster. It was not enough. One evening she
told her mother site intended to join a group of evangelists*
Mrs. Bridge immediately saw eight or ten lower-middle-
124* Mrs. Bridge
class people on a downtown street corner, the women in
bonnets and dark shapeless gowns and the men somehow
reminding her of Mr* Schumann, who led the high-school
band. Tubas in the rain, a tambourine being passed around
she had always looked upon these people with a mixture
of pity and respect, and, if she could not avoid the tambou-
rine, she put a quarter in it.
"Well," she said, "it's an awfully nice idea, o course. I
just w r onder if you'd be happy doing it. Let's see what your
Mr. Bridge came home about nine o'clock. His briefcase
was packed and he was harassed and short-tempered; he
told Harriet to fix him a sandwich and some coffee and
bring it into his study. Carolyn knew it was a poor moment
to announce her decision, but she was too thrilled to wait.
"Nonsense," he told her when she stopped him on the
stairs. "Youll continue with your schooling. I've already
put in your application at the university."
That ended the matter. Carolyn was enraged, but, like
every other member of the family, with the possible exception
of Ruth, who seemed unafraid of him, she did not dare
Mrs. Bridge sympathized with Carolyn, putting an arm
around her waist and saying gently, "I expect Dad knows
best. But youVe an awfully sweet person, Corky, to think
of an idea like that."
The telephone rang and It was Naomi Gattenberger, the
fattest girl in the high school. She always wore a brilliant
red coat that hung down to her ankles and a pair of shell-
rimmed glasses studded with rhinestones. Her father had
recently made a fortune in the used-car business.
"How are you, Naomi?" Mrs. Bridge asked.
"Just fine," said Naomi.
"I saw your mother the other day."
"That's what she said/*
As this exhausted their common interests, Mis. Bridge
said, "I'll see if Gorky's come home yet." She put down the
receiver and went to look, but Carolyn had not returned
from having her hair set.
"I didn't want to talk to her anyway/* said Naomi. "I'm
chairman of the Activities Committee for the sorority dance
and we decided on you for one of the chaperons/'
"Why, how nice! This Is quite a surprise/*
Naomi guessed maybe It was a surprise.
"Well when Is the dance to be?" Mrs. Bridge stalled,
"Two weeks from Friday from eight o'clock to twelve-
thirty In the Elbow Room/"
Still fighting for time to set up her defenses Mrs. Bridge
asked about the Elbow Room.
"It's downtown. It used to be a pool hall, I think, only
126 * Mrs. Bridge
they took out the pool tables." There was a pause. Naomi
added hopefully, "Lots of fraternities have parties there,
"It's very nice, I'm sure/*
Naomi guessed probably it was.
Another pause ensued, a longer one, during which Mrs.
Bridge could hear Naomi breathing. Obviously the question
had already been put and some kind of an answer was ex-
"Well, just a minute, Naomi, 111 see if we're busy that
evening." She slid the tabulator of her plastic engagement
book to the proper date and pressed: up popped the cover
and Mrs. Bridge found, to her dismay, that nothing was
"I sure do hope you can do it," Naomi said miserably.
"I already called up almost all the mothers."
Mrs. Bridge was a bit disconcerted by this confession, but
she was touched by Naomi's despair. Then, too, Carolyn
had been a sorority member for more than a year and during
this time Mrs. Bridge had not been called upon to serve as
a chaperon at any of the parties, so she said, "That'll be
grand, Naomi. I'll make a note of It right now." And while
jotting it down she asked, "What sort of decorations are
Naomi said they hadn't gotten a majority vote on anything,,
but probably it would be a Hawaiian party.
"Well, you have lots of time. I'm sure it will be exciting."
Naomi sounded despondent. "I sure do hope so."
This seemed to conclude their business, so, after a pause,
Mrs. Bridge said, "I'll tell Carolyn you called."
*'Ohl Well, thank you for asking me, Naomi. I'm flattered."
"You're welcome," said Naomi phlegmatically. "Well,
Mrs. Bridge * 127
Mrs. Bridge replaced the receiver and murmured, "Oh,
dear!" for it sounded like a dull evening.
The Elbow Room was decorated with Chinese lanterns
hung from the ceiling and with hundreds of yards of crepe
paper lividly criss-crossing the windows, framing the doors,
and connecting the lanterns. Mrs. Bridge, who was quite
sensitive to odors, was certain the moment she entered that
it had Indeed been used as a pool hall, If not worse. The
orchestra consisted of a piano, a complicated arrangement
of drums, a bass viol, and five saxophones, all played by high-
school boys. There was a girl about thirteen years old on the
stage; she was wrapped as tight as a mummy In a piece of
flowered silk and it was evident she Intended to sing. Mrs.
Bridge, surveying this scene, found there were three other
chaperons, two of them high-school teachers of whom she
had heard a great deal and whose photographs Carolyn had
pointed out to her in the school yearbook, and a swarthy
young man named De Falk who was the father of one of
the sorority girls.
The first half of the evening moved along smoothly enough;
Mrs. Bridge thought the orchestra played remarkably well,
considering, and the dancers some of them at least looked
as though they had been accustomed to this sort of thing
for years. The boys In the stag line stood around with their
hands in their pockets and did a great deal of staring and
whispering. Later in the evening a fight broke out near the
punch bowl, and shortly after this two boys in tuxedos began
burning holes in a lantern with their cigarettes and had to be
warned by Mr. De Falla that If they did it again they would
have to leave. Naomi was there in white taffeta, enormous,
alone, and wretched; Mrs. Bridge smiled to her and talked
with her occasionally and wondered if, as a chaperon, she
could flatly order one of the stags to dance with Naomi.
13?8 * Mrs. Bridge
She had a feeling there would be trouble if she attempted
Carolyn danced by every few minutes; Mrs. Bridge waved
and smiled and during the evening was introduced to a
number of boys. Mr. De Falla asked her to dance, and
though she did not want to she felt it might look rude if
she refused. He danced with a rather wild, swooping motion,
but otherwise proved to be more cultured than she had
expected and she found herself half-hoping he would ask
for another dance. But he did not; when the music ended
he escorted her back to her chair and resumed talking to
the female mathematics teacher, who was wearing a low-
cut gray satin gown, with a gardenia looking quite mashed
in the crevice.
About eleven o'clock a game of dice was discovered in the
cloakroom by Mr. De Falla, because the sentinel was at the
punch bowl, and the gamblers were dismissed from the
party. Beyond this there were no incidents until shortly after
midnight. This last affair was witnessed by Mrs. Bridge
alone. She never mentioned it to anyone.
She had been sitting quietly, partly concealed by the
piano, for quite a while when she noticed a couple dancing
in the corner where the lantern had burned out. Their
motions were definitely erotic, though in time to the music.
In a lesser degree such dancing had been evident throughout
the evening, modern dancing being more suggestive than
the dancing of Mrs. Bridge's youth; but, because the other
chaperons had taken it all without comment, she had not
objected. This couple, however, thinking themselves un-
observed in the darkened corner, were consciously beyond
the limit: Mrs. Bridge knew it immediately from the girl's
apprehensive eyes. The boy was dancing, shuffling, in-
sinuating himself, with his eyes closed and his nose thrust
into the flower she wore in her hair, and on his pimpled
face lay a sleepy smile. The girl, too, was dreamily smiling,
Mrs. Bridge * 129
though she remained alert. Mrs. Bridge leaned forward in
her chair and attracted the girl's attention; instantly the
couple broke apart and went dancing rapidly to the other
end of the room and on out the door. She saw them both
look back to see if she had gotten up and was coming after
them. She never saw them again and never learned who they
were. She did not ask. This was the thing she remembered
longest and most vividly about the sorority party, and the
thing that caused her to look more carefully at the boys
who came by the house for Carolyn. The horrifying part of
it had been that the girl's back was turned to her partner.
Carolyn was dating a clumsy, bumptious boy with crew-
cut hair and an idiotic laugh whose name was Jay Duchesne,
and about whom Mrs. Bridge had her doubts. Duchesne
chewed gum with awful assurance and reputedly drove too
fast, but because she wanted Carolyn to learn to judge people
she said nothing, always greeting Duchesne with a neutral
smile and saying, "Good evening, Jay. Won't you have a
chair? Carolyn will be down in a few minutes/*
"Why not?"* Duchesne would answer, and after shaking
his own hand in congratulation he would sit and twirl his
hat on his index finger and chew gum with a loud snapping
Until Carolyn got in at night Mrs. Bridge would lie awake
130 * Mrs. Bridge
or would sit up reading. Carolyn knew this and consequently
talked to Duchesne in very low tones at the front door;
Mrs. Bridge could hear them murmuring because their
voices carried much farther in the still night air than they
realized. One evening, after they had been saying good night
at the door for about an hour, she heard the next-door neigh-
bor's fox terrier which was often left out overnight begin
to growl, and she concluded that Duchesne must be molesting
Carolyn. Throwing back the covers she hurriedly pulled on
her robe and went to the banister, prepared to call out,
but at that moment a cat hissed; with a sigh of relief Mrs.
Bridge prepared to go back to bed. Then, however, she
heard Duchesne ask Carolyn for a kiss.
"You're frequently mad," Carolyn responded.
"Nobodyll find out/' Duchesne answered.
"You're an ogre/' said Carolyn.
Duchesne didn't think that was a good reason.
"Then, because/' said Carolyn.
"Why, because?" inquired Duchesne.
"Because, that's why."
After this had gone on for several minutes Carolyn said
her mother wouldn't approve. Duchesne apparently was
thinking this over because his chewing gum snapped inces-
santly; then he muttered something Mrs. Bridge could not
"But of course not!" Carolyn sounded shocked. "Are
"Aw, why not?" Duchesne bleated. "Don't be a duchess."
In a very superior tone, then, Carolyn said distinctly,
"Because, that's all. We won't discuss it any further. And
besides, don't be excruciating/*
Duchesne, sounding uncommonly like a musical saw, was
heard to say, "Awwwww, awwwww, jeez!"
"I feel terribly sorry for you," Carolyn said with unnatural
Mrs. Bridge * 151
compassion. 'Td like to, you know. Really, really 1 would,
don't you know? So terribly, terribly much, you mad child.
Because you're good/* she said earnestly, "Good!" And Mrs.
Bridge, puzzled, tried to recall that particular Inflection
because it did sound familiar. She wondered If Carolyn was
running her fingers through Duchesne's hair, or, considering
how short It was, over the top. He was working on the
chewing gum again. Mrs. Bridge sensed that Carolyn had
him on the defensive.
"I am fond of you, Jay. Dreadfully so. I ache, actually.
But but "
"Listen, Cork/' growled Duchesne, man of action, and
his big feet scraped on the doorsill. "You want to be a
"Silly!" said Carolyn.
Mrs. Bridge, clutching the banister In horror, was gathering
strength to speak out when the door bumped shut and
Carolyn sighed, clearly alone. A moment later the engine
roared and the tires squealed out of the driveway. Carolyn
went Into the kitchen. Mrs. Bridge, folding her robe more
tightly, stood In the upper hall trying to regain her com-
posure. If anyone had asked her such a question she was
positive she would have slapped the boy with all her strength,
but a moment afterward she thought of the night some
twenty years ago when she had barely resisted the pleas of
a boy whose very name she had long since forgotten. It was
the moonlight that had weakened her, the moonlight and
her own desire.
"Carolyn?" she called very softly through the silent house.
The refrigerator door closed. Carolyn walked into the
downstairs hall and gazed upward.
"Are you all right, dear?"
"Did you have a good time?**
132 * Mrs, Bridge
"That's nice," Mrs. Bridge said absently, drew the robe
more tightly around herself, and started back to bed.
"We're all out of peaunt butter."
"Oh, thank God!" whispered Mrs. Bridge. Aloud, softly
so as not to waken her husband, she called, "I'll tell Harriet
to order some in the morning. Don't stay up too late/'
When Harriet, who was at times inclined to insubordination,
brought in the breakfast tray Mrs. Bridge exclaimed, "For
Heaven's sake! What on earth happened to you?"
"Couperin," said Harriet, grinning.
"Oh, goodness! Is he the one with the motorcycle?'*
"No, ma'am," said Harriet vehemently. "I took my last
ride on a motorcycle, believe me. Approximately eight or
ten weeks back." She began to feel tenderly about her jaw,
on which there was a large purple bruise.
"I certainly hope this was an accident," said Mrs. Bridge.
"It came about," Harriet replied with regal poise, "because
only last evening it so happened that I and that Couperin
had a grave dispute. Couperin, he got the worst."
The evidence seemed to indicate Couperin had spoken
the final word, but Mrs. Bridge decided not to get involved.
"What does he do?" she inquired, to change the subject.
Mrs. Bridge * 133
"He is associated with the collection bureau of this city."
"Tax collectors, or "
"Bureau of rubbish and trash. Then, too, he plumbs a
bit. When he is Inclined."
Mrs. Bridge, beginning to sense this would be one of
Harriet's Insolent days, sipped at the orange juice and then
started to butter a slice of toast.
"Last evening," Harriet continued, wetting a finger and
touching up her eyebrows, "I received his proposition/'
This obviously demanded some sort of acknowledgment,
even though Couperin or one of the other suitors proposed
every Thursday night. "What jarred Mrs. Bridge as much as
anything was Harriet's referring to It as a proposition Instead
of a proposal, and every Friday when the subject was men-
tioned she was about to point out the difference.
"I hope you didn't accept/* she said, pouring some cream
in the coffee.
"Frankly, I was tempted/* said Harriet. "However I
declined, as you say. The reason being he chooses to get
disgustingly drunk following on the heels of his pay check.
I disapprove of that, don't you?"
"I most certainly do/* agreed Mrs. Bridge, busying herself
at the table somewhat more than necessary. Then, as Harriet
appeared to be reflecting on the previous evening, she said,
"Isn't that a new hair-do?"
"Well, It Is, yes/' Harriet pushed It lightly with her finger-
tips, "I believe It will prove suitable/*
"You look very chic/*
"Well, I find it pays to keep up appearances/*
Mrs. Bridge had the feeling she was about to pull out a
cigarette. "Perhaps you'd better look In the refrigerator and
see If we're going to have enough whipping cream for the
Harriet, holding her braised jaw, turned to go Into the
134 * Mrs. Bridge
Mrs. Bridge, who was very thankful that Carolyn had no
Couperin to contend with, said, * 4 1 hope you won't be seeing
him any more/"
"I believe not until next week on the customary evening,"
Laundress in the Rear
Every Wednesday the laundress arrived, and as the bus line
was quite a few blocks distant from the Bridge home some-
one would usually meet her bus in the morning. For years
the laundress had been a withered old colored woman named
Beulah Mae, who wore a red bandanna, a ragged velvet
dress split at the seams, and a pair of tennis shoes with the
toes cut out because her feet hurt. Mrs. Bridge was very
fond of Beulah Mae, speaking of her as "a nice old soul"
and frequently giving her extra money or an evening dress
that had begun to look dated, or perhaps the cookies that
she was obliged to buy from the Girl Scouts. But there
came a day when Beulah Mae had had enough of laundering,
extra gifts or no, and without a word to any of her clients
she boarded a bus for California to live out her time on the
seashore. Mrs. Bridge was therefore without a laundress for
an Interval of several weeks, during which the work was
taken to an establishment, but at last she got someone else,
an extremely large, doleful Swedish woman named Ingrid,
who said while being interviewed in the kitchen that for
Mrs. Bridge * 135
eighteen years she had been a masseuse on the island of Got-
land and wished she had stayed there.
When Mrs, Bridge arrived at the bus line the first morn-
ing Ingrid saluted her mournfully and got laboriously into
the front seat. This was not the custom, but such a thing
was difficult to explain because Mrs. Bridge did not like to
hurt anyone's feelings, so she said nothing about it and hoped
that by next week some other laundress in the neighborhood
would have told Ingrid.
But the next week she again climbed in front, and again
Mrs. Bridge pretended everything was satisfactory. How-
ever, on the third morning while they were riding up Ward
Parkway toward the house Mrs. Bridge said, "I was so at-
tached to Beulah Mae. She used to have the biggest old time
riding in the back seat."
Ingrid turned a massive yellow head to look stonily down
on Mrs. Bridge. As they were easing into the driveway she
spoke. "So you want I should sit in the back."
"Oh, gracious! I didn't mean that/* Mrs. Bridge answered,
smiling up at her* "You're perfectly welcome to sit right here
if you like/*
Ingrid said no more about the matter and next week with
the same majestic melancholy rode in the rear.
136 * Mrs. Bridge
Complexities of Life
The elegant Lincoln her husband had given her for her birth-
day was altogether too long, and she drove it as prudently
as she might have driven a locomotive. People were always
sounding their horns at her, or turning their heads to stare
when she coasted by. Because the Lincoln had been set to
idle too slowly, the engine frequently died when she pulled
up at an intersection, but as her husband never used the
Lincoln and she herself assumed it was just one of those
things about automobiles, the idling speed was never ad-
justed. Often she would delay a line of cars while she
pressed the starter button either too long or not long enough.
Knowing she was not expert she was always quite apologetic
when something unfortunate happened, and did her best
to keep out of everyone's way. She shifted into second gear
at the beginning of every hill and let herself down the far
side much more slowly than necessary.
Usually she parked in a downtown garage where Mr.
Bridge rented a stall for her. She had only to honk at the
doors, which would soon trundle open, after which she
coasted inside, where an attendant would greet her by name,
help her out, and then park the formidable machine. But
in the country-club district she parked on the street, and
if there were diagonal stripes she did very well, but if park-
ing was parallel she had trouble judging her distance from
Mrs. Bridge * 137
the curb and would have to get out and walk around to look,
then get back in and try again. The Lincoln's cushions were
so soft and Mrs. Bridge so short that she was obliged to sit
erect in order to see whatever was going on ahead o her.
She drove with arms thrust forward and gloved hands firmly
on the wheel, her feet just able to depress the pedals. She
never had serious accidents, but was often seen here and
there being talked to by patrolmen. These patrolmen never
did anything, partly because they saw immediately that it
would not do to arrest her, and partly because they could
tell she was trying to do everything the way it should be done.
When parking on the street it embarrassed her to have
people watch, yet there always seemed to be someone at the
bus stop or lounging in a doorway with nothing to do but
stare while she struggled with the wheel and started jerkily
backward. Sometimes, however, there would be a nice man
who, seeing her difficulty, would come around and tip his
hat and ask if he might help.
"Would you, please?" she would ask in relief, and after he
opened the door she would get out and wait on the curb with
an attentive expression while he parked the car. It was then
a problem to know whether he expected a tip or not. She
knew that people who stood around on street corners did
not have much money; still she did not want to offend any-
one. Sometimes she would hesitantly ask, sometimes not, and
whether the man would accept a quarter or not she would
smile brightly up at him, saying, "Thank you so much/' and
having locked the Lincoln's doons she would be off to the
138 * Mrs. Bridge
News of the Leacocks
She gasped when she saw the evening paper. On the front
page was a picture of Tarquin Leacock taken a few minutes
after he had been captured. The Leacocks had moved away
from Kansas City about two years ago and no one had heard
anything from them since that time. Every once in a while
someone would ask what had become of them, for they had
been such a remarkable family that it seemed they must
be making news wherever they were. Now indeed they were.
"I saw it,*' Mr. Bridge said when he got home that night.
He had been working late again; it was nearly midnight when
his Chrysler turned in the driveway, but she had waited up,
"I simply can't believe it," she said.
"I can," said Mr. Bridge as he took off his overcoat. "You
remember I warned you about that kid/*
"Oh, yes, I know/' she said faintly, "but this!"
He hung his coat in the closet, placed his Homburg atop
the briefcase and returned to the living room, where he
glanced with no particular interest at the picture of Tarquin,
who had developed into a surly, hulking youth.
"Well/' said Mr. Bridge quietly, and tapped the newspaper
with his index finger, "I am sorry about this, but on the
other hand those people had no one to blame but themselves.
This doesn't surprise me in the least. They should have
taught that youngster there are other people in the world
besides himself/* He shook his head and took off his glasses,
Mrs. Bridge ^139
as he did whenever he was exhausted. "It gets worse every
day. These psychologists have bluffed parents into thinking
nothing Is more Important than a child's right to assert him-
self. Lord knows where It will end. But 111 tell you this:
Douglas is going to learn he's not the supreme authority.
His personality can go to pot, so far as that's concerned, but
my son Is not going to run around pulling stunts like this!"
With which Mr. Bridge again tapped the paper, signifi-
cantly, and headed for the kitchen. Mrs. Bridge followed him
and began to warm the supper that Harriet had prepared
and covered with oil paper and left on the drainboard, for
it was Thursday night and she had stepped out with Gouperin.
"Really, it just makes me III to think about it/* Mrs. Bridge
said, and she lighted the oven and placed his supper in to
* 'Society gets the crime It deserves," Mr. Bridge remarked
with indifference. "I'll never forget that kid calling his parents
by their first names."
"No, I don't approve of that either," she said.
Tarquin, having had a bellyful of psychology, or, perhaps,
only feeling unusually progressive, had entered the bedroom
of his parents while they were asleep and had shot them dead.
Tarquin Leacock preyed on her mind and she therefore took
to observing her son more closely, wondering if he, too, might
unexpectedly go berserk. He was now in high school, and
140 * Mrs. Bridge
so far as she could tell he was less of an Apache than most of
his companions, for which she was grateful, but he did be-
come unpredictable, given to fits of introspection during
which he dressed quite formally and stalked about with hands
behind his back, followed by a grandiose kind of good-
fellowship, and it was in this latter mood that the battle of
the hat took place.
She was of the opinion that at certain ages one wore cer-
tain articles of clothing each of the girls had received a
girdle on her fourteenth birthday and she now suggested
to Douglas that he was old enough to begin wearing a hat.
"I don't need a hat/' he said.
"It's time you started wearing one," she replied.
"They don't feel good on my head," said Douglas.
"Your father would look awfully silly without a hat/* she
"Who knows?" he countered, flinging up his hands.
So it went for a period of several weeks until finally they
drove downtown and picked out a hat, a very nice conserva-
tive hat. She never expected to see it on his head, but strangely
enough he began to wear it everywhere. He wore it to school
and while playing ball after school, and he wore it around
the house and in his room at night while doing homework.
Very shortly she was sick of seeing the hat, but now he would
not think of going anywhere without it. Furthermore there
developed, somewhere between the high school and the drug-
store where he played the pinball games, the habit of wear-
ing it on the back of his head; not only this but on the
crown he pinned a glazed yellow button saying: LET'S GET AC-
Mrs. Bridge * 141
That summer the family was invited to the wedding of a
relative named Maxwell who was a postal clerk In the nearby
town of Olathe. Carolyn was the only one who wanted to
attend the wedding, but because It was an obligation of sorts
the entire family except Mr. Bridge drove to Olathe.
When the bride came down the aisle they discovered the rea-
son for the wedding.
After the ceremony they put In an appearance at the recep-
tion and then, In silence, drove home.
About three months later they received the traditional
announcement concerning the birth of a child. It happened
that Ruth, Carolyn, and Douglas were at home when this
announcement arrived, and Mrs. Bridge, having exclaimed, In
spite of her disgust, "Isn't that nice!" felt It necessary to add,
"First babies are so- often premature."
At this time Ruth was eighteen years old, Carolyn was six-
teen, and Douglas, nobody's fool, a shrewd fourteen. A
profound silence, a massive,, annihilating silence, greeted
her remark. Carolyn gazed out the window. Douglas became
greatly interested In his fingernails. Ruth looked at Carolyn,
then at Douglas, and she seemed to be considering. Finally
she said, quietly, "Oh, Mother, don't."
None of them said anything further. The Maxwells were
not mentioned again.
142 * Mrs. Bridge
She was kneeling in the garden with a trowel in her hand
when Harriet lifted the kitchen window to announce that
some man who would not give his name was on the tele-
phone asking for Ruth.
'Til take it," Mrs. Bridge said, getting to her feet. She
entered the house and approached the telephone with a feel-
ing of hostility, and taking up the receiver more firmly than
usual she said, "Hello. Ruth is not in Kansas City at the mo-
ment. Who's calling, please?"
"Where's she at?" a deep voice asked.
Mrs. Bridge signaled Harriet to stop running the vacuum
"Ruth is visiting friends at Lake Lotawana. Who is call-
"What's the number out there?" the man demanded,
Despite his rudeness and obvious coarseness, if he had been
inquiring about Carolyn she would have given him the num-
ber at the lake, but she had never liked or trusted the men
who came after Ruth.
"I'm certain she would like to know who called."
There was a pause. Mrs. Bridge thought he was going to
hang up, but he finally answered, "Tell her Al called." Then
he added, "Al Luchek." And faintly, from wherever he was,
came the clink of glasses.
Mrs. Bridge * 145
For some reason Ruth's friends always had foreign names.
Carolyn's companions were named Bob or Janet or Trudy
or Buzz, but there was a malignant sound to Al Luchek, and
to the others the Louie Minillos and the Nick Gajadas.
They sounded like gangsters from the north end. Mrs. Bridge
had once or twice asked Ruth who they were, and how she
met them, but Ruth replied evasively that she had simply
met them at So-and-so's house or at a New Year's Eve party.
"But what do they do?" she asked, and Ruth would shrug.
"Tom Duncan was asking about you the other day/' she
would say, but Ruth would not be interested.
Now she said in cool and civil tones to the man on the tele-
phone, "Thank you for calling, Mr. Luchek."
Immediately the vacuum roared.
Mrs. Bridge was disturbed. Ruth was incomprehensible
to her and with every year she became more so, more secretive
and turbulent, more cunning and inaccessible, more foreign.
Where had she come from? How could she be Carolyn's
sister? Mrs. Bridge was deeply worried and found it more
and more difficult to call her by the pet names of childhood,
and before long she was unable to call her by any name
except Ruth, though it sounded formal and distant and
tended to magnify their separation. Are you mine? she
sometimes thought. Is my daughter mine?
1:44 * Mrs. 'Bridge
Mademoiselle from Kansas City
It was to Carolyn, though she was younger, that Mrs. Bridge
was in the habit of confiding her hopes for them all. The
two were apt to sit on the edge of Carolyn's bed until quite
late at night, their arms half-entwined, talking and giggling,
while across the room Ruth slept her strangely restless
sleep mumbling and rolling and burying her face in her
wild black hair.
Mrs. Bridge could never learn what Ruth did in the
evenings, or where she went; she entered the house quietly,
sometimes not long before dawn. Mrs. Bridge had always
lain awake until both girls were home, and one evening
during the Christmas holidays she was still downstairs read-
ing when Carolyn returned, bringing Jay Duchesne, who
was now considerably over six feet tall and was doing his
best to grow a mustache. In certain lights the mustache was
visible, and he was quite proud of it and stroked it constantly
and feverishly, as if all it needed in order to flourish was
a little affection. Mrs, Bridge liked Jay. She trusted him.
There were moments when she thought she knew him
better than she knew Douglas.
"What's new, Mrs. B.?" he inquired, twirling his hat on
one finger. And to Carolyn, "How's for chow, kid?" So they
went out to the kitchen to cook bacon and eggs while Mrs.
Bridge remained in the front room with the book turned
Mrs. Bridge * 145
over in her lap and her eyes closed, dozing and dreaming
happily, because it seemed to her that despite the difficulties
of adolescence she had gotten her children through it in
reasonably good condition. Later, when Duchesne roared out
of the driveway he still drove as recklessly as ever and she
was still not resigned to it she climbed the stairs, arm in
arm, with Carolyn.
"Jay's voice has certainly changed," she smiled.
"He's a man now, Mother," Carolyn explained a bit
Mrs. Bridge smiled again. She sat on the bed and watched
as Carolyn pulled off the baggy sweater and skirt and seated
herself at the dressing table with a box of bobby pins.
"Funny it's so quiet/' said Carolyn.
Mrs. Bridge looked out the window. "Why, it's snowing
again. Isn't that nicel I just love snowy winter nights."
Large wet flakes were floating down and clasping the out-
side of the window, and the street light shone on the ever-
green tree in the back yard.
"There goes a rabbit!" she cried, but by the time Carolyn
reached the window only the tracks were visible.
"Is Daddy asleep?" Carolyn asked.
"Yes, poor man. He didn't get away from the office until
after seven and insists he has to get up at five-thirty tomorrow
"I know, but you can't tell him anything. I've tried, good-
ness knows, but it never does any good."
"Why does he do it?"
"Oh," said Mrs. Bridge irritably, for the thought of it
never failed to irritate fier, "he insists we'll all starve to
death if he doesn't."
"That'll be the day!"
Both of them were silent for a while, watching the snow
146 * Mrs. Bridge
"I do hope Ruth gets home soon/'
"She can drop dead for all I care/'
"You know I don't like you to use that expression/'
Carolyn split a bobby pin on her teeth and jammed it
into her curly blond hair. "Well, what's the matter with
her then? Who does she think she is, anyway?" She leaned
to one side and opened the cupboard that belonged to
Ruth. "Look at that! Black lace bras. Mademoiselle from
Presently the grandfather clock in the hall chimed twice,
and Mrs. Bridge, after brushing Carolyn's cheek with her
lips, went downstairs and into the kitchen, where she made
herself some cocoa and moodily watched the snow building
up on the sill. After a while she went upstairs again, changed
into her nightgown, and got into bed beside her husband.
There she lay with her hands folded on the blanket while
she waited for the faint noise of the front door opening
She believed she was awake but all at once, without having
heard a sound, she realized someone was downstairs. She
heard a gasp and then what sounded like a man groaning.
The luminous hands of the bedside clock showed four-
fifteen. Mrs. Bridge got out of bed, pulled on her robe,
and hurried along the hall to the top of the stairs, where
she took hold of the banister and leaned over, calling just
loud enough to be heard by anyone in the living room,
No one answered.
"Ruth, is that you?" she asked, more loudly, and there
was authority in her tone. She listened and she thought
some delicate noise had stopped. The dark house was silent.
"I'm coming down," said Mrs. Bridge.
"It's me," said Ruth.
"Is there anyone with you?"
Mrs. Bridge * 147
And then Ruth coughed in a prolonged, unnatural way,
and Mrs. Bridge knew she was coughing to conceal another
"Who's there?" she demanded, unaware that she was
trembling from anger and fright, but there was only the
sound of the great front door opening and shutting and
seconds later the crunch of auto tires on the crust of
yesterday's frozen snow as whoever it was released the brake
and coasted away.
A cold draft swept up the spiral staircase. Mrs. Bridge,
peering down into the gloom, saw her daughter ascending.
She snapped on the hall light and they met at the top step.
Ruth was taking the last of the pins out of her hair. She
reeked of whisky and her dress was unbuttoned. Idly she
pushed by her mother and wandered along the hall. Mrs.
Bridge was too shocked to do anything until Ruth was at
the door of her room; there they confronted each other again,
for Ruth had felt herself pursued and turned swiftly with a
sibilant ominous cry. Her green eyes were glittering and she
lifted one hand to strike. Mrs. Bridge, untouched by her
daughter's hand, staggered backward.
Ruth Goes to New York
That was the year Ruth finally managed to graduate from
high school. She was there five years and for a while they
were afraid it would be six, though she had taken the easiest
148 # Mrs. Bridge
courses possible. Her electives were music, drawing, athletics,
and whatever else sounded easy. She seldom studied, and
even when she did study she did poorly. She had been a
member of the swimming team and this was the only
activity listed after her name in the yearbook: ''member of
girls' swimming team" that and the desperate phrase "in-
terested in dramatics/' She had once tried out for a play, but
gave a rather hysterical reading and failed to get the part.
When she finished high school Carolyn was only one
semester behind her, although they had started two years
A few days after the graduation she said she was going to
New York to get a job. She did not like Kansas City; she
never had. She had not made many friends. She had never
seemed happy or even much at ease in Kansas City.
Mrs. Bridge tried to become indignant when Ruth an-
nounced she was going to New York, but after all it was
useless to argue.
"What on earth would you do in New York?" she asked,
because Ruth had been unable to learn shorthand, nor
could she operate a typewriter as efficiently as Douglas, who
tapped out his English themes with one finger.
"Don't worry about me," Ruth said. She had grown tall and
beautiful, and somehow in the powerful arch of her nose and
in her somber, barbaric eyes she looked biblical, swarthy
"I'm putting a thousand dollars in the bank for you," said
Mr. Bridge, "on one condition." This condition was that
if she could not support herself by the time the money ran
out she would agree to return to Kansas City. She laughed
and put her arms around him, and no one in the family
had seen her do this since she was a child.
Mrs. Bridge was disturbed that she did not want to go
to college, being of the opinion that although one might
never actually need a college degree it was always nice to
Mrs. Bridge * 149
have; and yet, thinking the matter over, she realized Ruth
would only be wasting four years obviously she was no
student. But why New York? Why not some place closer to
Soon she was ready to leave. The entire family went to
"You didn't forget your ticket, did you?" asked Mrs. Bridge.
"Not quite/' said Ruth drily.
"Be sure to look up the Wenzells when you get there.
I've already written them you're coming to New York, but
of course they won't know where to find you." The Wenzells
were people they had met one summer in Colorado and with
whom they exchanged Christmas greetings.
"I will/' said Ruth, who had no intention of getting in
touch with them.
"Have a good trip," her mother said as they were embracing
at the gate- "Don't forget to write. Let us know as soon as
"Here are your traveling expenses/' her father said,
handing her some folded bills. "For God's sake, don't lose
it. And behave yourself. If you don't, I'm coming after
"I can look out for myself," said Ruth.
He laughed, and his laughter rang out odd and bold, the
laughter of a different man, a free and happy man, who was
not so old after all. "That isn't what I said," he told her
lightly, and Mrs. Bridge, glancing from one to the other,
was struck by their easy companionship, as though they had
gotten to know each other quite well when she was not
Once on the train Ruth kicked off her shoes and curled
up in the seat. She unsnapped the catch of her traveling bag
and reached in for a copy of Theatre Arts but felt a strange
envelope. She knew immediately what it was it was called
a "train letter/' and a generation or so ago they were given
150 # Mrs. Bridge
to young people who were leaving home for the first time.
She withdrew her hand and sat motionless for quite a
while. Tears gathered in her eyes and presently she was
shaken with dry sobs, although she did not know whether
she was laughing or weeping. Before long she dried her face
and lighted a cigarette.
Much later Ruth took out the envelope, read the letter of
advice, and seemed to see her mother seated at the Chippen-
dale highboy with some stationery and a fountain pen,
seeking to recall the guidance of another era.
Tornado at the Club
Not long after Ruth's departure a very familiar day rolled
around for Mrs. Bridge.
Each year on her birthday she was distressed by the ex-
travagance of her husband's gift. Invariably she protested to
him, and meant it, but he was determined to give her
costly presents and she could not dissuade him. Once he
set his mind he was immovable. One year It had been the
Lincoln, another year it was an ermine coat, another year
it was a diamond necklace. She loved these things, to be sure,
but she did not need them, and knew this quite well, and in
spite of loving them she could not help being a little em-
barrassed by the opulence of her possessions. She was con-
scious of people on the street staring at her when, wrapped
in ermine and driving the Lincoln, she started off to a
Mrs. Bridge #-151
party at the country club; she wanted to stop the car and
explain to them that her husband was still at work in the
office though it was nine in the evening, and that she had
not asked for these expensive things but that he had given
them to her for her birthday. But, of course, she could not
stop to explain any more than she could stop people from
This year, therfore, she was mildly surprised when her
birthday arrived and all he said was that they were going
to have dinner at the club. She supposed this was to be
her gift. It was odd, considering the past, but she was not
displeased; she was even a bit relieved.
And it came as an unforgettable shock when he remarked,
slyly, pleased with himself, soon after they had been seated
in the country-club dining room, that the two of them were
leaving for Europe three weeks from Sunday. Mrs. Bridge at
first thought he was joking. He was not. And she learned
that all her friends had known about the trip for the past
month, but not one of them had so much as hinted about
the surprise in store for her. The tickets were already bought
and he had reserved hotel accommodations in the countries
they were to visit. They would be gone, he told her, for
about six weeks,
"I feel giddy," said Mrs. Bridge. "I never dreamed of
anything like this/'
And when the waiter had taken their order Mr. Bridge
proceeded to tell her of the cities they would visit, and as
he talked she stopped listening, because she could not help
thinking of another evening when he had told her of all
he planned to do. He had said he would take her to Europe
one day; she remembered having smiled at him fondly, not
really believing, not caring, happy enough to be with him
anywhere. How long ago, she thought, how very long ago
that was! It seemed like eight or ten years ago, but it was
more than twenty, and on this day she was forty-eight years
152 * Mrs. Bridge
old. She grew a little sad at this, and while he talked on and
on he was more excited than she she gazed out the window
at the gathering clouds. And the distant thunder seemed to
be warning her that one day this world she knew and loved
would be annihilated.
The clouds descended and the wind began to increase
while they were eating. A few drops of rain spattered against
the window. It was the season for tornados, and before much
longer it had become evident that one was approaching.
The club steward turned on the radio and listened to reports
of the tornado's course; it was, he learned, bearing directly
toward the country club at a speed of seventy miles an hour.
The steward went from table to table explaining the situation
and adding that if the storm continued to approach it would
be necessary to take shelter in the basement.
"Thank you/' said Mrs. Bridge. "Do you suppose there's
much chance of it hitting us?"
The steward didn't know. The tornado was still quite a
few miles west; the course of it might alter, or the funnel
might degenerate before reaching Kansas City.
"Well, you'll let us know," said Mrs. Bridge.
The steward said he would keep them informed.
Soon the trees on the terrace were bending from the
wind, and the rain poured down. She saw a metal chair go
skidding off the porch as though someone were pulling it
away with a rope. A few of the diners had begun to leave the
room, and the steward was coming around again.
"Goodness, this is a storm," said Mrs. Bridge. "Do you
think we should go to the basement?"
Mr. Bridge replied that the storm was not going to strike
the clubhouse and that he, for one, intended to finish his
"There goes the mayor/* she said, looking around. The
mayor and his wife often ate at the club and the Bridges
were acquainted with them.
Mrs. Bridge * 153
"Good evening," said the mayor as he passed by, preceded
by his wife.
"Good evening/' said Mrs. Bridge.
The rain was coming down so heavily it was no longer
possible to see through the window. There was no lightning
and very little thunder, only the rain and a sense of terrible
oppression as though something were lurking nearby.
Mrs. Bridge placed her napkin on the table and said, "Well,
it looks like we're in for it."
Her husband continued eating.
"Steward, have you any further information?" she asked
as soon as he had finished speaking to a couple at the next
The steward said the tornado was still approaching and
he thought it would be a good idea to go to the basement.
"Thank you," said Mrs. Bridge, and looked expectantly
at her husband.
"I'm going to finish this steak/' said he.
The steward did not know quite how to proceed; he knew
it was his responsibility to get everyone to the basement,
and if Mr. and Mrs. Bridge should be swept up and carried
away he would be called upon by the club directors for an
explanation. On the other hand he did not care to begin
giving orders to Mn Bridge who, he knew, was not only
short-tempered but very much aware of having been warned.
He gazed earnestly at Mr. Bridge, who paid no attention
to him, and at last, unable to decide whether he was more
afraid of him or of the club directors, the steward hurried
off to the radio in hopes that the decision would be taken
out of his hands by the course of the storm.
The lights of the dining room looked extraordinarily
bright because of the unnatural darkness outside. There was
a curious stillness and the rain fell in waves. Mrs. Bridge,
looking about, saw that except for her husband and herself
everyone had left the dining room.
154* Mrs. Bridge
"Don't you think we should go?" she asked.
He was chewing and unable to answer at the moment. He
swallowed, wiped his lips with his napkin, took a drink of
water, and began to butter a piece of cornbread. Finding
that he did not have enough butter he began to frown. He
liked butter very much and at home he got all he wanted,
but whenever they ate out he kept asking for more. Mrs.
Bridge, who was on a diet, had already given him the butter
from her plate, but this was not enough. Both of them
looked around. There was not a waiter in sight.
"Well, I'll steal some from the next table/' said Mrs.
Bridge. "I don't suppose anyone will mind." And she got
up and walked over to get a piece of butter for her husband.
Fortunately there was an untouched square of it on the
table and so she leaned across, holding her beads with one
hand so they would not dip into the abandoned dishes, and
picked up the butter plate. It was a small china plate with
the crest of the country club stamped in gold and she thought
as she picked it up how attractive it was. Just then the lights
flickered. Apparently the tornado had struck a power line
somewhere. Mrs. Bridge turned to go back to the table.
She noticed the club steward standing in the doorway. He
was watching them. He was wringing his hands and standing
on one foot. She smiled politely, feeling a little foolish
because of the butter plate in her hand. He smiled briefly
and resumed staring at Mr. Bridge.
From the distance came a hooting, coughing sound, like
a railroad locomotive in a tunnel; a very weird and frighten-
ing sound it was.
"Well, that must be the tornado," she said, listening at-
tentively, but Mr. Bridge, who was eating the cornbread with
great gusto, did not reply. She spread her napkin in her
lap again although she had finished eating; she spread it
because when she was a child her parents had taught her
it was impolite to place her napkin on the table until
Mrs. Bridge * 155
everyone had finished, and the manners she had been taught
she had, in her turn, passed on to her own children.
As the tornado approached the country club Mrs. Bridge
remained seated across the table from her husband. She
listened to the curious grunting and snuffling of the storm;
although she had never been in the path of a tornado before,
she knew this must be it, this must be the sound it made
the hooting, sucking roar of the vacuum. Now that it was
so close it reminded her of a pig rooting on the terrace.
It did not occur to Mrs. Bridge to leave her husband and
run to the basement. She had been brought up to believe
without question that when a woman married she was
married for the rest of her life and was meant to remain
with her husband wherever he was, and under all circum-
stances, unless he directed her otherwise. She wished he
would not be so obstinate; she wished he would behave
like everyone else, but she was not particularly frightened.
For nearly a quarter of a century she had done as he told her,
and what he had said would happen had indeed come to
pass, and what he had said would not occur had not occurred
Why, then, should she not believe him now?
The lights of the country club went out and she thought
the breath was being drawn from her lungs. Short streaks of
lightning flickered intermittently, illuminating a terrible
cloud just outside rushing toward them like a kettle o
black water and she caught the unmistakable odor of elec-
tricity. In darkness and silence she waited, uncertain whether
the munching noise was made by her husband or the storm.
In a little while the lights came on again and the diners,
led by the mayor, came up from the basement.
"There!" said Mr. Bridge, looking about for something
else to eat. "I told you, didn't I?"
The tornado, whether impressed by his intransigence
or touched by her devotion, had drawn itself up into the
sky and was never seen or heard of again.
156 * Mrs. Bridge
They left for Europe, as he said they would, three weeks
In New York they saw Ruth, who had gotten a job as an
assistant to one of the editors of a women's magazine, and
who was living alone in a Greenwich Village garret. They
went up four flights of steps to have a look at her apartment,
though she seemed not overly anxious to show it, and Mrs.
Bridge was relieved to find it was not quite so forbidding
as it sounded. She was, however, surprised by the pictures on
the walls original oil paintings by one of Ruth's new friends
and by the other furnishings. The apartment was so un-
like her room in Kansas City. It was neither so tidy nor so
comfortable. There was not even a rug; the black wood
floor was partly covered by a pattern of Oriental mats. And
there were so many phonograph records! Mrs, Bridge had
forgotten that she was so fond of music. The apartment,
though slightly bizarre, was neatly balanced, she thought,
except for one area where something was disturbing. She
finally realized that a nail had been driven into the wall
above the bed but no picture hung from it. She could not
help staring at the nail, knowing Ruth had hidden what-
ever belonged there. How strange! she thought. What was
Ruth concealing? A moment later Mrs. Bridge became con-
scious that she herself was being studied. Turning, then,
Mn. Bridge * 157
to her daughter, she was greeted with a look of implacable
The Atlantic voyage did not agree very well with Mrs.
Bridge, though she tried not to show that the motion of
the sea was nauseating. She took some tablets and felt
better, but could not truly enjoy the meals, and she looked
forward to landing in England.
"I guess I'm just not cut out to be a sailor/' she remarked
more than once, not only to her husband but to some very
nice people they had met aboard ship, and those who were
feeling a bit queasy themselves were the first to sympathize.
She often noticed an old Italian woman from the tourist
deck who, somehow or other, managed to get up to the first-
class deck in the afternoons. The old woman would drag a
chair into a secluded, sunny corner and would sit motionless
for hours. No one ever spoke to her or came to see if she
wanted anything. She did not look well. She was raggedly
dressed, all in black, with shoes broken open at the seams,
and a black scarf bound over her head. Mrs. Bridge, feeling
better as the voyage progressed, thought that never in her
life had she seen anyone so alone and wretched as this
elderly woman, and so, resolving to help her, went one
afternoon to the corner and bent over and gently touched
her on the shoulder*
"Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Lei parla Italiano?"
"Oh, don't you speak English?"
"Non capisco/* the old woman replied, gazing up at her
in vast despair.
"I'm awfully sorry," Mrs. Bridge said helplessly. "I wish
I knew what to do, but I just don't understand/*
158 * Mrs. Bridge
They landed at Southampton long before dawn and took
the train to London. It was a rainy morning and most of
the passengers dozed, but Mrs. Bridge stayed awake and stared
out the train window, a trifle groggily, at the silent, stately,
fogbound farmland. And as this train carried her across the
English countryside, past cottages she had never seen and
would never see again, where great birds nested in the
chimney crook, and from the hedgerows smaller birds came
fluttering in shrill desperation to circle twice, and then,
finding nothing, to settle as before, and where the cattle in
the mist grazed unperturbed by the train which rolled on
and on beneath the somnolent English sky, as though there
were no destination, past the rain-drenched, redolent fields,
and the trees which cast no shadow, she thought to her-
self how familiar it was and that once this must have been
her home. Yes, she said to herself slowly, yes, I was here
In London the hotel was just off Piccadilly Circus; they
had some difficulty understanding the hall porter and the
maid, and, in fact, at the desk or on the telephone they
found it necessary to listen closely. Mrs. Bridge, unpinning
her hat as she stood before the mirror in their room a
black straw hat it was, with a shiny cluster of plastic cherries
on the brim replied to her husband's comment, "I agree
Mrs. Bridge # 159
with you, but don't you suppose we sound funny to them,
Next morning they hired a cab to the Tower of London,
where Mrs. Bridge enjoyed the ravens and the colorful
costumes of the Beef-eaters. Mr. Bridge spent a good deal
of time investigating the instruments of torture and the
chopping block, after which they got into the cab again
and reached Buckingham Palace just in time for the changing
of the guard. Mrs. Bridge used three rolls of color film on
this but insisted it was worth every bit of it. After a very
pleasant lunch they drove to Eton.
They also hired a car to Stratford-on-Avon, and to the
Dover cliffs, to many historic spots throughout the city and
around it, and yet, as they were leaving for Paris, it seemed
to them both, and particularly to Mrs. Bridge, that they
had hardly begun to get acquainted with England. While
they were settling themselves on the train she told him she
thought England was the nicest birthday present she had
To Mr. and Mrs. Bridge it seemed that no matter where
they went in Paris they ran into Americans; consequently
it was no surprise when a young man named Morgan Hager,
who was from Kansas City and whose father had written
that the Bridges would be visiting, told them that in addition
i6o# Mrs. Bridge
to tourists there were several thousand Americans who had
taken up permanent residence in the city, mostly on the
Left Bank. No, he did not know what all these expatriates
did for a living; yes, he thought they were happy in France;
he had no idea whether they intended to remain in a foreign
country for the rest of their lives. Mrs. Bridge could not
imagine anyone wanting to live outside the United States.
To visit, yes. To take up residence, no.
"I should think they would get awfully lonely," she
"I guess so," said Hager. "I know I do/'
"But then why do you stay?"
"Because I'm happier here/'
This was puzzling and she wanted to understand. She
observed him frankly and saw that he did not look happy;
at least he seldom smiled. She did not think he was truly
"If you have the time, Morgan," said Mr. Bridge, "I'd
like to see some of this Bohemian life we hear so much
Hager looked at him doubtfully, for the request posed a
problem. There were many things he could have shown them,
but, even as certain murals in Pompeii are not open to
casual tourists, so there were various Parisian experiences
not listed in the guidebook.
"Well," said Hager modestly, "I really don't know of any-
thing very Bohemian, but you might like to have dinner at
a place on Montpamasse where a lot of art students eat.
It's sort of dirty," he added thoughtfully.
Mrs. Bridge thought this sounded exciting. "Perhaps we
should go back to the hotel and change/' she said.
Hager did not know whether she meant to get more dressed
up or less dressed up, so finally he said, "I don't think any-
body will notice you." This had a peculiar ring, so he added,
"You look all right." Somehow this was not what he had
Mrs. Bridge & 161
In mind either, so he cleared his throat, scratched his nose,
and said, "The place is actually a real dump." He tried
again. "I mean, you can get in with no trouble." Having
run himself into a cul-de-sac he stopped to meditate. "Oh,
well," he said at last, "let's go. I'm hungry as a sonofabitch,"
It was the smallest restaurant Mrs. Bridge had ever seen.
It was not much larger than her kitchen at home, but some-
how or other there were a dozen oilcloth-covered tables
jammed into it and every table was crowded. It reeked of
cheese and wine and smoke and perspiration. Wedged be-
tween the door and a coatrack they stood and waited for
three vacancies, and finally the waiter, who was a fat boy
with crew-cut hair and a dirty apron, called through the
smoke and the gabble, "Alors, vite! J'ai trois! Vite!"
"Okay, step on it," Hager muttered. "He's got three but
they won't last," and he began pushing Mrs. Bridge into the
Finding no room on the table for her purse, and no other
place to put it, she was obliged to hold it in her lap. The
menu was scrawled on a blackboard on the wall and Hager
translated and made recommendations and both Mr. and
Mrs. Bridge accepted his suggestions. Seated next to her was
an unusually ragged person wearing a short-sleeved shirt
and a filthy blue beret,
"Bonjour, Claude," said Morgan Hager.
"Ah, mon ami!" said the dirty one. "Comment a va?"
"Oh, <ja va," replied Hager. "Claude, je vous presents
Monsieur et Madame Bridge/*
"How do you do?" said Mrs. Bridge.
"Enchant<!" said Claude, with his mouth full of bread.
He looked at her speculatively. He plucked at his shirt and
said, "C'est un cadeau."
"I gave him the shirt," said Hager.
"Oh. How nice."
"Oui," said Claude, still chewing and eyeing her. He
162 # Mrs. Bridge
saw that her wine glass had not been filled, so he reached
across the table for the community bottle and filled the
glass for her, saying, "C'est bon> alors."
"Thank you/' said Mrs. Bridge. The wine was bright
red and had a few specks floating on the surface.
"It tastes like vinegar/' said Hager as he saw her looking
at it doubtfully. "We can get some better stuff. Claude's
dead broke, that's why he drinks it. I mean, it's only about
one cent a glass/'
"Oh, I'm sure it's quite good/' she replied, though she
was sure it wasn't. She tasted it and smiled because Claude
"C'est bon, n'est-ce pas?'* he demanded.
"Oh, yes, it's really awfully good/' she replied, and took
another sip to prove she meant it. Claude nodded approvingly.
He was eating salad now. He paused, leaned forward, and
pulled a limp, black, stringy object out of the bowl. Mrs.
Bridge saw it was a spider. Evidently it had climbed into
the salad, or had fallen in, and drowned. Claude indifferently
dropped it into a shell half filled with ashes and cigarette
stubs and continued eating. In a little while the spider
recovered and crawled unsteadily out of the ash tray, across
the table, and disappeared on the other side.
Presently the waiter arrived with the first course and
stood around for a few moments to see if they would enjoy
it. The spider had taken the edge from Mrs. Bridge's appetite,
and as for salad, though she tried valiantly she could eat
nothing more than a bit of tomato.
Back at the hotel that night Mr. Bridge observed that he
had always heard so much about Franch cooking but if that
was a fair sample he would rather eat in Kansas City.
"I thought it was very good," she said loyally.
"You didn't eat much/' he said.
"Well, good heavens," she replied, "we didn't go there
for the food/'
Mrs. Bridge * 165
To the Louvre they went as soon as they got down from
the Eiffel Tower. The Louvre was a symbol to Mrs. Bridge.
As Texas meant size, as Timbuktu meant the ends of the
earth, so did the Louvre have meaning. To be sure, there
were nice galleries in the United States; in Kansas City, for
example, there was the William Rockhill Nelson gallery and
although she had not been in it more than four or five times
in the last twenty years she was very proud that it was in
Kansas City. It had a national reputation, she knew, and
once in a while she thought of visiting it, for she remembered
that on the few occasions she had been there she had en-
joyed herself. Once inside it was very nice and of course
remarkably interesting; it was just that getting there was
so difficult, not that it was out of the way, it was not far
from the Plaza, and there was plenty of parking space, but
somehow she could not bring herself to go there. Each time
the idea came to her she began to feel uncomfortably cool
and depressed, and would hear once again her footsteps
echoing from the marble. The few visitors she had encoun-
tered had ignored her, or at best seemed distantly courteous,
It was all so impersonal, a trifle ghostly. Now if there were
music and if the windows were open yes, that was the
trouble. And if it could be nicely carpeted! instead of
spending all that money on marble pillars. And if there were
164 * Mrs. Bridge
a nice tea shop and a gift shop perhaps Bancroft's could
show the gallery directors how to make things more at-
tractive. . . .
And so she meditated in the taxicab as they were on their
way to the Louvre. It was a lovely afternoon. Men were
fishing from the banks of the Seine, couples browsing along
the bookstalls what oddly shaped green boxes! she thought,
with the lids propped up and so many maps and pictures on
display. And in the Tuileries, with the Louvre in the back-
ground, ladies were knitting and children were rolling hoops
across the grass. Balloons waved at the end of sticks, or
clustered together, bumping against one another in the
afternoon breeze, and she noticed, as the taxicab stopped in
front of the famous French museum, how many people were
going in and out; Paris was really altogether different from
In the Louvre she immediately recognized the Venus de
Milo, even though they happened to approach from the
rear, and of course the Mona Lisa was unmistakable; it
looked exactly like the reproductions. The tapestries seemed
familiar somehow; perhaps it was just that most tapestries
looked alike, and most Greek vases, and all mummies.
At the end of an hour Mr. Bridge said he thought he
would go outside and wait, with the result that she continued
through the Louvre alone. It was tiring, but it was exciting,
and she knew she would never forget this day; it was with
a feeling of regret despite the fact that she was so exhausted
she could hardly walk that at last she concluded it was time
to leave. Her husband was probably bored to death waiting
for her; she felt a little guilty about letting him wait, but
knew he would understand. He knew how she had looked
forward to visiting the Louvre.
She had not managed to see everything but she reflected
as she walked toward the exit that she had seen all the most
famous paintings and statuary except the Winged Victory
Mrs. Bridge * 165
of Samothrace, she thought, and promptly stopped. It had
been familiar to her as long as she could remember. There
must have been a picture of it in one of her earliest school-
books. Even now she could imagine it so clearly: that imperial
figure advancing and the drapery streaming backward. How
impressive it must be!
"Well/* she said, half aloud, "it may be ages before I'm
in the Louvre again, so if I'm going to see it I'd better see
She looked around, intending to inquire where it was, but
for the moment there seemed to be no English-speaking
people in the corridor, so she decided to continue to the
exit where there should be an information desk, or at least
a guard who would understand. She turned the corner and
there, all of a sudden, was the Winged Victory. Mrs. Bridge
gasped and took a step backward, for the great statue seemed
to be bearing down on her and it was the very image of
Lois Montgomery in a nightgown*
Strangers in Paradise
Next day they went window-shopping along the boulevards
near the Opera, and in the course of this stroll Mrs. Bridge
became slightly separated from her husband. They were
walking slowly up the rue Auber, stopping at whatever
interested them, and she had drifted ahead, musing on the
difference between Paris and Kansas City, observing the
166 * Mrs. Bridge
French businessmen who seemed content to loiter for hours
in sidewalk cafes, and whose attitude, she reflected, was
certainly pleasure before business.
Finding herself alone, she looked back and saw him stand-
ing with his arms folded, staring into one of the shop windows.
She waited a while, thinking he would be coming along, but
whatever he saw had hypnotized him. Her curiosity aroused,
she retraced her steps. He sensed her approach and looked
around with a start. They wandered along as before, but
she had seen the object of his attention: a black lace brassiere
with the tips cut off.
The more she mulled over this incident the more con-
cerned she became. The French, after all, might do as they
pleased; she need have nothing to do with the French, but
she must live with her husband. She had lived with him
for a long time now, and assumed she knew whatever was
worth knowing about him. True, there were occasional sur-
prises once he had told her, and afterward seemed to regret
having divulged the secret, that when he was a boy he used
to dream of becoming a great composer but the revelations
of his nature had seemed meaningless, no matter how
fascinating, and she was not apt to dwell on them, but now
Why had he stood there looking? What had he been
thinking? His expression had been so serious. Were there
things he had never told her about himself? Who was he,
really? From all the recesses of her being came the questions,
questions which had never before occurred to her, and there
on the foreign street she felt lost and forsaken, and with great
longing she began to think of Kansas City.
Mrs. Bridge #167
The guidebook spoke of a cafe called Le Dome as having
been the haunt of famous intellectuals at the beginning of
the century, so there they went to spend an hour or two.
"Picasso used to linger here/' Mrs. Bridge read from the
book, and she went on to read the names of other celebrated
individuals who had taken their leisure on this very terrace.
"Here comes Picasso now/' said Mr. Bridge.
"Oh, I don't believe it," she said, looking up nevertheless.
In a moment she saw to whom he was referring; it was
Morgan Hager, whom they had not seen for several days.
Hager was carrying a portfolio under his arm and he was
wearing a beret that for some reason made him resemble a
fox. He looked startled when he saw them in the cafe, and
for an instant seemed ready to flee, but then he smiled and
nodded and came over to join them, placing his portfolio
in a corner. Mrs. Bridge thought about asking to see his
drawings, and after some hesitation she did so. He said the
drawings were not much good and she did not press the
"Well/* he said, "I see you're still here/' This was not
what he meant to say, so he amended, "I figured you'd
probably left/' Since this was not right either he said, "I
never did know what you were doing here/' He saw Mrs.
Bridge smiling courteously and steadily, and Mr. Bridge
i68 * Mrs. Bridge
observing him with frank curiosity, so he took off his beret
and scratched his head, gazed around Le Dome in search
of something whereby he might distract them from his
inability to make conversation, and he exclaimed, "Oh!
Look at that!"
Mr. and Mrs. Bridge turned and looked and they saw
a shaggy girl, rather pretty in a gypsy sort of way so Mrs.
Bridge thought who was wearing a silk blouse that was
not tucked into her skirt but was simply tied in a loose knot
so that a good deal of midriff was showing. She was laughing
and shaking her head in response to the comments of two
Frenchmen who were sitting at the next table. One of the
Frenchmen took out his wallet and slipped a bill under the
saucer of her coffee cup, and at this she promptly untied
the knot in her blouse and straightened up, revealing her
breast to her neighbors as well as to anyone else who cared
to look, whereupon there was a burst of clapping and much
laughter not only from the two businessmen but from every-
one else in the cafe, with the exception of Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.
"Well," said Morgan Hager suddenly, "I guess I'd better
be running along."
"Oh, must you go?" inquired Mrs. Bridge.
"Yes, there's a girl at the ho ah, I mean, I've got some
plans for the next few hours." He paused. "It's just that I'd
forgotten about Kansas City what the people were like, if
you know what I mean." He stopped again. "Well," he said,
picking up his portfolio, "it's sure been an experience!"
Mrs. Bridge was not certain what he meant, but replied
courteously, "Good-by, Morgan. We'll tell your parents we
saw you." To which Hager responded with an uneasy grin
and vanished swiftly into the crowd on the street.
Mrs. Bridge * 169
"I never knew there were so many artists/* she observed as
they wandered along the quay. "How do you suppose they
keep from starving to death?"
Mr. Bridge had never been greatly interested in art, but
if this was how she wanted to spend their final day in
Paris it was all right with him. Some of the pictures in the
book stalls he did rather like; then, too, it was a warm sunny
afternoon near the end of August and he was pleased, and
he made up his mind to buy her a painting. He said nothing,
but he began to pay more attention, and near the cathedral
of Notre Dame she paused to admire a watercolor of the
"Parlez-vous Anglais?" Mrs. Bridge politely inquired of
the old gentleman who sat beside the stall in a canvas
chair. He shook his head and went on smoking his pipe.
"Well, combien?" she asked, pointing to the one that
struck her fancy.
"Vingt mille," he answered without looking around, and
"Vingt mille," she repeated, for she had been listening
closely, knowing he would speak in French. "Now, let's
see. Vingt is twenty, I believe. And mille is thousand. Well,
that sounds like a lot/* Whereupon she opened her handbag
and took out a little booklet which equated American money
170 * Mrs. Bridge
with virtually everything on earth. Having learned how much
it would cost in dollars, she exclaimed, "Oh, I'm afraid that's
much too much," and shook her head and regretfully moved
along, remarking to her husband, "I'm sure he's spotted us
Mr. Bridge took a long, shrewd look at the picture so as
not to forget it. He did not think it was very good in
fact he was of the opinion that Ruth had done better
paintings when she was in high school but he seldom offered
an opinion on a subject with which he was not familiar.
Later that afternoon, back at their hotel on the Champs
Elys^es, while she was packing the suitcases, he went out,
hired a taxi, and drove to the quay, where he bought the
painting and arranged to have it shipped to Kansas City.
The next day as they were getting settled on the train for
the trip to the Riviera he observed rather dryly that he
thought he knew how the Parisian artists kept from starving,
but since she had no idea he had bought the painting for
her this remark meant nothing, and she replied as she took
off her hat that she supposed they must manage some way.
A telegram was waiting for them in Monte Carlo. Douglas,
knowing the date of his parents' wedding anniversary, sent
this message: MAY i TAKE THE OPPORTUNITY EXTEND FELICI-
Mrs. Bridge #171
TATIONS UPON MEMORABLE OCCASION AND IN BEHALF ENTIRE
COMPANY EXPRESS HOPE YOUR CONTINUED SUCCESS.
Mrs. Bridge was touched by his thoughtfulness and wrote
to him, "It was awfully sweet to hear from you on our
anniversary, but I do think the American Express company
must have gotten their messages mixed up. . . ."
Before leaving on the trip she had checked over the luggage
in the attic and concluded they did not have enough, so
she had gone downtown and bought three elegant, darkly
burnished leather suitcases. They were so beautiful that she
was easily persuaded by the salesman to buy a set of canvas
covers to protect the leather. These covers, to be sure, were
ugly as coarse as Boy Scout pup tents but she bought them
and had them fitted onto the suitcases. The covers remained
on the suitcases while they were aboard ship, and as they
had been in each city only a few days she had not bothered
to remove them, but now she decided to see if the leather
was being protected. She unfastened one of the canvas
jackets, peeled it halfway off, and there as beautiful as
though still on display the leather gleamed. Well pleased,
she buttoned on the cover.
172 * Mrs. Bridge
Mrs. Bridge slept later than she intended to the second
morning in Monte Carlo; they had visited the casino the
previous night, and while she had not gambled she had
found it nonetheless a rather strenuous experience. Her
husband was gone when she finally awoke, but this was
not surprising because he had gotten so accustomed to rising
early in order to put in a full day at the office that he was
no longer able to lie in bed past seven o'clock. Probably
he was walking briskly around town, and no doubt he would
be waiting to check on the Italian reservations as soon as the
travel agency opened its doors for the day. She often wondered
where he found so much energy.
The clock on the night table told her it was almost noon.
She felt a trifle guilty. And yet it was delicious to lie in
bed and to feel on her cheek and on her arms the mild
breezes drifting up the hillside from the Mediterranean. A
few minutes more, she thought, then she really must get
tip. And so, with eyes half open, she lay motionless and
knew how fortunate she was. And she inquired of herself
what she had done to deserve all this. There was no answer.
All at once she perceived something so obvious and vulgar
that she could not imagine why it had failed to escape her
attention. She could see herself in the mirror on the wall,
the mirror faced the bed, and she had suddenly realized
Mrs. Bridge #173
that in every one of their European hotel rooms a large
mirror had faced the bed. At the significance of this her
blue eyes opened wide and she quickly turned her head on
the pillow. In Paris a beautiful ornate Louis Quatorze mirror
had frankly revealed her intimacy with her husband, and
In London, too, now that she thought about it, they had been
Deeply troubled, puzzled, no longer thankful, Mrs. Bridge
lay in bed with an expression of listless despair and gazed
through the opened doors of the balcony, through the iron
grillwork to the distant sea, to the purple clarity and the
Wherever they went they were promptly identified as Ameri-
can tourists. From every side street some young man would
come gliding, a hand in his coat pocket, murmuring in
broken English that he had a diamond ring for sale, a
fountain pen, a Swiss watch.
"Psstl Hey, mister," he would begin.
"How on earth do they always know we're Americans?"
Mrs. Bridge inquired.
It was not mysterious to Mr. Bridge, who, however, chose
to reply bitterly, for the trip was costing twice what he
had estimated, "Europeans can smell a dollar a mile away."
174 * Mrs. Bridge
In Rome their hotel was situated near the Via Veneto, which
the desk clerk, who had never been to America but who
had a second cousin in Manhattan, insisted was the Broadway
of Europe. Neither Mr. or Mrs. Bridge was inclined to dispute
him, the principal reason being that the day was overcast
and the humidity so high it was difficult to breathe.
"Goodness, this is certainly different from the Riviera/ 1
Mrs. Bridge remarked as they were unpacking in their room.
It had been hot in Monte Carlo at least the temperature
had been high but in the shadows of the stone buildings
it was usually cool, and even in the direct sunlight they
had not been uncomfortable.
"This really is awfully muggy/' she said, looking through
the blinds at the dank, motionless clouds. "I certainly miss
that breeze from the Mediterranean/'
They showered, changed into their lightest clothing, and
decided to sit at a cafe on the Via Veneto. A weak, hot rain
had begun to fall and they selected a table with an umbrella.
At the next table sat an Italian man in a white suit and
white perforated shoes who soon addressed them in perfect
"You are Americans, are you not?"
Mrs. Bridge said they were, again amazed at such prompt
"And how do you find Italy? Do you enjoy yourselves?"
Mrs. Bridge # 175
"Well, it's awfully warm/' she said hesitantly, not wanting
to be ungracious, and was relieved when he was not offended*
So many Europeans were excitable.
He asked how long they had been in Europe and how
much longer they intended to stay, and when she replied
that after visiting Florence and Milan and Geneva they
would be returning to Paris and from there to the United
States he offered a curious little gesture which somehow
"Unfortunate," he added.
"Have you ever visited America?" she inquired pleasantly.
"No, Madame, I have not."
"I suppose you must be dying to go."
The Italian laughed. Lifting both arms in the gesture they
had come to know so well, he said, "My dear lady, why
go to America?"
Later, when the rain had stopped, he bowed, told them
what a pleasure it had been to make their acquaintance, and
strolled along the boulevard.
"Don't let them fool you/' said Mr. Bridge. "These people
would sell their souls to get to the United States."
Change o Itinerary
They came to enjoy sitting on the Via Veneto so much
so that Mrs. Bridge said half jokingly, referring to the pe-
culiar Italian who had no desire to go anywhere else, "I
really think he has a point."
176 * Mrs. Bridge
They were in front of a different cafe farther up the
boulevard, one they had not tried before. The weather being
muggy and cloudy as it had been ever since their arrival
in Rome, they decided to have some iced coffee. In a few
minutes a waiter approached, a very Italian-looking waiter.
"Let's hope this one understands English/' she murmured.
"Try him and see."
"What else did you think I was going to speak?" Mr.
Bridge replied. He had just finished changing the film in
the camera and now placed it on an empty chair and gave
the waiter their order.
"Very good, sir. Will there be anything else?"
"No," he said. "Just coffee with plenty of ice." The waiter
bowed and went inside the cafe. Mr. Bridge wiped his
forehead with his handkerchief and shook the sleeves of his
linen coat. Mrs. Bridge was fanning herself with a sightseeing
"It certainly does make things simpler when they speak
English," she said, "but my! doesn't this one have an
They waited and waited. The iced coffee did not arrive.
They looked around. It seemed that people were gathering
inside the cafe and that an argument or a discussion of some
kind was going on.
"They're usually so good about the service," said Mrs.
Bridge, still fanning herself with the sightseeing folder.
They waited a while longer. Finally Mr. Bridge got up,
saying he would go into the caf and find out what the
"For heaven's sake, don't let yourself get involved," she
said, for it was obvious the Italians were excited about some-
thing. Several of them were waving their arms and denouncing
one another; however this went on all the time in Italy
and Mrs. Bridge was growing accustomed to it. While her
Mrs. Bridge # 177
husband went inside she studied the folder. They were
planning to visit the Vatican later that afternoon and she
was hoping their schedule would permit a drive through
the countryside. She looked up with a smile when her husband
"We're getting out/' he said as he picked up the camera.
Her smile faded. She knew from his expression that he
was not angry.
"What is it?" she said. "What's happened?"
"The Nazis are in Poland/'
"Oh, my word!"
Two days later Mr, and Mrs. Bridge were on their way
At luncheon the day after her return to Kansas City she was
questioned about the situation in Europe and she replied
that it had been frightening and that she really had no idea
what was going on. They had not met any Nazis at least
she did not think so and she could not honestly give an
opinion. She felt more sure of herself when asked about the
sights they had seen. Inevitably someone asked if they had
gone to a bullfight,
"No, thank heavens/' she replied. "We wanted to go to
Spain, but Walter felt it would be dangerous so soon after
178 # Mrs. Bridge
the Civil War. But we did hear a great deal about it. Europe
seems to be jam-packed with people who fought on the los-
'It's hard to understand how the Spaniards can be so blood-
thirsty/* Madge Arlen remarked.
"It certainly is," said Mrs. Bridge promptly.
"The poverty of the Europeans must be simply appalling."
"Yes, it's simply unbelievable."
"They say there's no middle class at all, just the rich and
"Yes, it seems so unfair/'
"I suppose they're all dying to emigrate to this country/'
"Yes, though of course you can't blame them," she replied.
"Grace, would you pass the cream?"
Luncheon being over they moved into the living room,
where the hostess, Lois Montgomery, had set up card tables.
On each table there was a fluted yellow paper basket filled
with salted cashews and peppermints, and there were four
tasseled tally cards and four tiny pencils.
Being asked what she thought about England, she answered
that it was lovely and that the people were quite nice, though
rather reserved. The cooking was not as good as French
cooking because the English boiled everything. The roast
beef, however, was delicious, and the plum pudding. London
was foggy and the English accent sounded strange until one
got used to it.
"Aren't we lucky to be living in America!" someone said.
"Isn't that the truth!"
"Oh, by the way," said Mrs. Bridge, "all the time we were
abroad I kept wondering if that awful hole in the pavement
just off Ward Parkway had been fixed/'
"They finally got to it last week. We were just about to
give it up as a lost cause."
"That was so maddening. I was so provoked with Douglas
one day that I forgot to watch for it and ran right over it."
Mrs. Bridge * 179
"Well," said Madge Arlen, who was shuffling the cards
with a cigarette in her mouth and one eye closed against the
smoke, "you can thank Grace. She sent the mayor a tele-
"You'd think with taxes as high as they are the city could
do something about those holes without waiting till kingdom
"Well, you know these politicians. Who's ready for more
"Buy any art treasures while you were there?"
"Oh, no. I'm afraid I wouldn't know one if it hit me.
Three no trump."
"I've been trying to talk Ralph into a trip somewhere, but
now with this Polish thing I suppose it'll have to be post-
"Yes, I don't suppose it's safe anywhere any more. Honestly,
you can't imagine why we have so many wars."
"I'm simply parched!" said Madge. "Lois, do you mind if
I scare up some ice water?"
"Oh, sit still. Ill ring for Belinda."
"Is it true the Italian women get awfully heavy?"
"Yes, we saw some who were positively enormous. I sup-
pose it's from eating so much starch."
Late that afternoon as the party was breaking up someone
said to her, "I certainly envy you and Walter. It must have
been a marvelous trip even if it did end that way."
"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," said Mrs. Bridge,
smiling all around, "and I feel awfully lucky. Even so we
were certainly glad to see the Union Station. I suppose no
matter how far you go there's no place like home." She could
see they agreed with her, and surely what she had said was
true, yet she was troubled and for a moment she was almost
engulfed by a nameless panic.
180 * Mrs. Bridge
Progress, Madness, Defeat
The only one of her friends who might understand how she
felt was Grace Barron, and so it was that a few days after the
luncheon she telephoned her. The maid answered and said
Mrs. Barron was in bed. Mrs. Bridge asked if she was ill. The
maid didn't seem to know, saying only that she had gone
to bed about noon. This was so strange that Mrs. Bridge de-
cided to drive over and find out what was the matter.
She was sitting up in bed wearing her favorite sweatshirt
and a baseball cap and she was reading a monstrous Russian
novel. Closing the book on a hairpin she said, "I'm losing my
"This is the first I've heard of it/' said Mrs. Bridge with
"Do stop/' Grace said unhappily. "Don't be gay, India.
Please, for once, don't."
"Well, it is rather a shocking remark.*'
"Life can be shocking." She took off the ball player's cap
and began turning it around in her hands and frowning.
"It's just that I do want to be a person. I do, I do!" Mrs.
Bridge did not know what to say and presently Grace con-
tinued. "Virgil says there's something wrong with me. He
says he's never known another woman in all his life who
would wear a sweatshirt on the Plaza/'
"Well, you do attract attention. Not that I mind, and I
Mrs. Bridge * 181
can't see where it's anyone else's business, and there certainly
isn't any law against it."
"But I do attract attention/'
"Well," Mrs. Bridge answered uneasily, "as Virgil says,
you're the only one from this neighborhood who dresses as
though you were going to work in the north end."
Grace nodded. "It's true. Yes, it's true."
Both of them fell silent.
"Do you think we'll get in the war?" said Grace after a
"I don't know," Mrs. Bridge replied. "I can't understand
what's going on. I hate to think about it. It's so senseless."
Again they fell silent.
"Can you tell me what happened, Grace? Being in bed is
so unlike you."
"It was the washing machine's fault," she answered with-
out a smile, and went on to explain that she and the machine
had never gotten along very well "We've always despised
each other," she said and on this day it had defied her, it
had knocked and trembled, and begun tearing the clothing,
and so infuriated her that she had grabbed it by one leg and
tipped it over, and the water ran all over the basement. The
maid, who was upstairs in the kitchen preparing lunch, heard
her screaming and summoned a doctor.
Mrs. Bridge remained silent and was thoughtful, for here
was someone less confident of the future than herself. An
evil, a malignancy, was at work. Its nature she could not dis-
cern, though she had known of its carbuncular presence for
many years. Until now, until this revelation of its existence,
she had not imagined it could be more than a fanciful ill-
ness, nor that there could be other victims than herself. But
her friend was ill and suffering and Mrs. Bridge, too, was
afflicted. Thinking back she was able to remember moments
when this anonymous evil had erupted and left as its only
cicatrice a sour taste in the mouth and a wild, wild desire.
i8s # Mrs. Bridge
One morning she had chanced to meet Grace downtown
and Grace had wanted to look around in a toy store, and
so, together, Mrs. Bridge amused and puzzled by this whim,
they stopped here and there. So much had changed from the
years when she used to buy toys for Ruth and Carolyn and
Douglas. Everything was more intricate now, more automatic.
It seemed you no longer played with a toy, you operated it.
Douglas used to spend hours on his knees ruining his cor-
duroy knickers pushing a fire engine or a dump truck and
making appropriate noises. Now, however, you simply pushed
a lever and the toy ran around by itself and the sirens wailed
and the lights flashed until you were able to catch the machine
and stop it. And Grace had caught it and was trembling so
she could hardly reverse the lever.
There was a doll, too, with its little frock tied up around
its head in order to display the electronics in the abdomen.
There was a booklet tied to the wrist of the doll and they
had read the booklet and then Mrs. Bridge turned the doll on.
The eyes began to roll, the jaw dropped, and from the loud-
speaker in the stomach came a nursery rhyme, and when this
ended the doll sat down and a thin, colorless liquid appeared
from beneath it and trickled over the counter.
"Can you help me?" Grace was asking, but Mrs. Bridge
was too depressed to speak.
Mrs. Bridge * 183
Robbery at the Heywood Duncans'
The next time she met Grace was at a party given by the
Heywood Duncans. Shortly after ten o'clock, while the two
of them were chatting, just as Mrs. Bridge was reaching for
another anchovy cracker, four men appeared in the doorway
and they did not look like guests. They were wearing plastic
noses attached to horn-rimmed glasses and were carrying
pistols. One of them said, "All right, everybody, this is a
stick-up!" Another of the men sprang to the top of the piano
and pointed his gun at several different people. At first every-
one thought it was a joke it was so typical of a stunt Noel
Johnson might dream up. But it wasn't a joke because the
robbers made all the guests line up facing the wall with
their hands above their heads. Then two of them walked
around pulling billfolds out of the men's pockets and taking
bracelets and necklaces and rings from the ladies. Another
of the men went upstairs and came down with his arms full
of purses and fur coats. Just before the robbers reached Mrs.
Bridge, who was standing obediently with her hands as high
as possible, something frightened them and the one standing
on the piano she afterward described him to the police as
not having worn a necktie called out in an ugly voice,
"Who's got the keys to that blue Cadillac out front?"
At this Mrs. Ralph Porter screamed, "Don't you tell him,
184 * Mrs. Bridge
But the bandits took Mr. Porter's keys, and after telling
everyone not to move for thirty minutes they ran out the side
door. Heywood Duncan immediately phoned the police while
Dr. Foster, who had dropped in unexpectedly and who had
been robbed the same as the others, feebly seated himself in
a corner and urged everyone to be calm, saying the bandits
would not get away with it.
The bandits did get away, though, and it was written up
on the front page of the newspaper with pictures on page
eight, including a close-up of the scratched piano. Mrs. Bridge,
reading the account in the breakfast room next morning after
her husband had gone to work, was surprised to learn that
Stuart Montgomery had been carrying just $2.14 and that
Mrs. Noel Johnson's ring had been zircon.
As if one robbery were not enough, Mrs. Bridge became in-
volved in another not much of a robbery, and she was de-
tained less than ten minutes; still it was frightening. She was
in a department store examining some brocade with the idea
of altering the scheme in the dining room when, quite un-
known to her, someone looted the cash register not six feet
away. The theft was discovered a few minutes later and she,
along with several other women, was herded into the man-
ager's office. When it came her time to be interviewed she
sat down in front of the desk, adjusted her fur neckpiece,
Mrs. Bridge #185
and said, "I surely hope you don't think I'm the guilty one/'
The manager raised both hands in a faint gesture of dismay
at such a thought. He asked if he might see her driver's
license, and when she produced it from her purse he handed
it to the police lieutenant who was lounging on the edge of
the desk with a felt hat pushed back off his forehead. Mrs.
Bridge knew he was a policeman the instant she saw him.
She expected him to study the license and ask a great many
questions; consequently she was both relieved and slightly
ruffled when he barely glanced at her license before handing
it back and asked her nothing at all.
"I certainly hope you catch whoever it was/' she said.
The lieutenant, who knew a bona-fide country-club matron
when he saw one, responded by nodding politely.
The manager opened the door for her.
Follow Me Home
Kansas City was apparently headed for an epidemic of crime
such as no one could remember since the days of the hood-
lums and political bosses. How the latest scare actually started
no one knew, although several women, one of whom was
a fairly close friend of Madge Arlen, claimed to know the
name of someone who had been assaulted not far from
Ward Parkway. Some insisted it had happened near the
Plaza, others thought farther south, but they were generally
agreed it occurred late at night. The story was that a certain
i86 # Mrs. Bridge
matron had been driving home alone and when she had
slowed down for an intersection a man had leaped from
behind some shrubbery a clump of spirea, according to
Madge and had wrenched open the door. Whether or not
the attack had been consummated the story did not say;
the important part was that there had been a man and he
had leaped up and wrenched open the door. There was
nothing about it in the paper, nor in The Tattler > which did
not print unpleasant material, and the exact date of the
assault could not be determined, only that it had been one
dark night not long ago.
As this story began to circulate through the country-club
district none of the ladies cared to drive anywhere alone after
sundown; if they did they locked themselves in the car and
drove with great anxiety. And it became customary at the
conclusion of parties where there were "office widows" for
the host to get his automobile out of the garage in order
to follow the unescorted matrons home, which was the
reason there could be seen processions of cars winding
through the country-club district late at night.
So Mrs. Bridge came home on those evenings when her
husband did not get away from the office in time to attend
the party, or when he was too tired to go. At her driveway
the procession would halt, engines idling, everyone watching,
while she drove into the garage and returned along the
driveway so as to be constantly visible until she reached
the front door. Having unlocked it she would step inside,
switch on the hall lights, and call to him, *Tm home!" if
she had seen his car in the garage. If he failed to answer
she necessarily assumed he was asleep or otherwise occupied.
In any event, she would then flicker the lights a few times
to show the friends waiting outside that she was safe, after
which the caravan would move along.
Mrs. Bridge * 187
The idea of a chauffeur had begun to appeal to Mr. Bridge.
Traffic was getting more congested all the time, and as he
did not enjoy driving anyway he thought it would be well
worth the expense, so, after they had considered the matter,
Mrs. Bridge telephoned an employment agency and the
following evening a tall, affable colored man came out for
an interview. Both of them were impressed by his manners.
He was from New Orleans, he told them, and this somehow
added to his stature. He was dignified and courteous. The
longer they talked to him the better they liked him, so he
In the rear seat of the Chrysler, his briefcase in his lap,
Mr. Bridge sat erect and tense, expecting an accident at
every corner while being driven to the office. It was less
exhausting to battle the traffic himself, but now that he
had the chauffeur he could not dismiss him without a
reason. Then, too, having set his mind to the proposition, he
was determined to make a success of it. At the office he got
out, very much relieved, and told the chauffeur what time
to pick him up. The chauffeur spent the remainder of the
day driving Mrs. Bridge around in her Lincoln, or, when she
had no use for him, he would loiter in the basement.
During the third week they began to receive mysterious
telephone calls asking for Jules, which was his name. Drawl-
i88 # Mrs. Bridge
ing Negro voices would inquire, "Well, whereabout you
figure he at?" if it was his day off. Or, "Yes, ma'am, it sho'ly
am mighty impo'tant." If, reluctantly, she went to the top
of the basement steps and called, "Jules? Jules? Someone
wishes to speak to you on the phone," he would not respond,
and her patience was severely tested. Eventually they learned
that Jules had bought a yellow satin easy chair for his
apartment in the north end of the city, but so far he had
been unwilling to pay for the chair and these were the
creditors who were calling. When a few more weeks had
passed an attempt was made to link Mr. Bridge with the
payment; a serious talk with Jules having produced no effect,
he was dismissed.
Next they interviewed and employed a Japanese called
Niki who, with clasped hands, assured them he paid cash
for whatever he bought. Mr. Bridge felt more at ease with
Niki than he had with Jules, but Mrs. Bridge felt quite
the opposite. She was terrified of the way he backed out of
the driveway. She asked him to go slower and to pay
some attention to where he was backing, and he grinned
and agreed to do so, but there was no change. When she
became severe about this he looked so grieved by the rep-
rimand that she became ashamed of herself. Still he would
not slow down. He never actually struck anything but there
were some near misses, the worst when he roared over a
pile of burning leaves and almost killed a boy with a canvas
bag around his neck who was throwing circulars onto the
front porches. It was such a close call that Mrs. Bridge refused
to ride with him any more, so there was nothing to do but
After Niki came another Negro man, but there was always
a faint odor of whisky around him, and Harriet, when asked
for an opinion, compressed her lips significantly and shook
her head. After this man came another Oriental, who,
within the first month, failed to show up five times. And
Mrs. Bridge # 189
so at last they were obliged to abandon the idea, and Mrs.
Bridge, when discussing the matter with her friends, some
of whom had chauffeurs and some of whom were considering
it, was apt to say, "Well, it does have advantages, but of course
there are drawbacks."
The Rich and the Poor
The principal advantage, of course, so far as she was con-
cerned, was that in case of difficulty there was a man around
to take charge. Occasionally something unfortunate would
occur while she was out driving and she then found her-
self in a quandary, not knowing whether to telephone her
husband and run the risk of interrupting him at work or
to try to handle the situation alone. One day, for instance,
the Lincoln simply stopped in the middle of Ward Parkway.
Luck was with her on this occasion, because a tow truck
came by and when she had explained what happened the
man looked under the hood. He asked how long it had
been since the Lincoln was overhauled. She did not know,
but thought it had been quite a while. She knew mechanics
often tried to take advantage of people who knew very
little about automobiles and so she bent over to peer into
the engine, holding her fur coat tightly to her breast so
it would not touch anything greasy, and after looking at
different things for a few seconds she withdrew and said,
"Well, do the best you can. About how long do you think
190 # Mrs. Bridge
it will take? I have a luncheon appointment on the Plaza."
Aside from mechanical difficulties there was always the
parking problem; she had been amazed and impressed with
the way the chauffeurs could park the Lincoln, and now
that she was again on her own she was more than ever
conscious of her inadequacy. Douglas, inadvertently, made
the situation worse. A few days after taking up the study of
geometry he began to measure everything. In his pocket he
carried a carpenter's flexible steel tape, a compass, and a
scratch pad, and he was obsessed by a desire to calculate all
such things as the number of cubic feet in the attic, the
radius of the mahogany dining-room table if it had been
circular instead of elliptical, and the angle formed by the
radio and the sofa and the fireplace. Among other things he
measured the chimney, the back porch, the stove, and the
wicker laundry basket, and one evening he pedantically
announced that the pantry was almost exactly two cubic
feet smaller than the Lincoln. The next time she tried to
park the car she was reminded of his calculations. She pulled
on one side of the steering wheel with both hands, backed up
a few feet, pulled on the opposite side of the wheel, moved
forward, backed up, and so on, gasping for breath in her
efforts to maneuver the formidable machine, and she was
not assisted by the knowledge that it would have been easier
to park the pantry.
Mrs. Bridge #191
Paquita de las Torres
Douglas liked it, though, and he had no more than gotten
his first driver's license when he began asking to borrow
the car. She was glad enough to let him have it, only cau-
tioning him to drive carefully; if she had to run an errand
while he was using the Lincoln she did not mind catching
a bus, and if the weather was bad she could telephone one
of her friends. She often wondered where he went and
what he was doing, but she did not worry much about him
because he was growing to be rather conservative, which
gratified her, and furthermore he seemed to be using his
head more effectively than he did as a child. He was even
taking a reasonable amount of interest in schoolwork. In
short he was becoming a sober, self-reliant young man, a
bit too mysterious, perhaps, but otherwise agreeably normal.
She was, therefore, almost startled out of her wits to
encounter him on the Plaza with the wildest-looking girl
in the world. He had borrowed the car to go bowling and
Mrs. Bridge had later decided to go shopping for some
cocktail napkins and so, quite unexpectedly, they met. The
girl was a gypsy-looking business with stringy black un-
combed hair, hairy brown arms jingling with bracelets, and
glittering mascaraed eyes in which there was a look of deadly
experience. She was wearing a sheer blouse of burnt orange
igs # Mrs. Bridge
silk and a tight white skirt, and Mrs. Bridge did not need
a second glance to realize that was practically all.
"How do you do, Paquita?" she said, smiling neutrally,
after Douglas had sullenly mumbled an introduction. The
girl did not speak and Mrs. Bridge wondered if she under-
stood English. The hairy arms and the rancid odor were
almost too much for Mrs. Bridge to bear. "I hope you two
are having a nice time," she said, and heard a bracelet
jingle and saw Douglas and Paquita exchange a deep, know-
"Dad will be home early this evening for a change, so
Harriet is planning on dinner at six sharp. I hope you
won't be late. It's nice to have met you, Paquita/ 5 And she
could not be sure, but it seemed to her that a moment after
she turned away the girl spat on the sidewalk.
On the bus going home with the cocktail napkins she
tried to make sense of it. She tried to be fair. Why would
he want to go bowling with someone obviously from a
different high school when there were so many nice girls
at Southwest? Why would he want to see this girl at all?
What could they possibly have in common? Where could
he have met her?
"You'd think I was poison/' she said to him that evening,
jokingly and very seriously, as they entered the dining
room. "Why not tell us when you're beau-ing someone new?
Your Dad and I are interested in knowing your friends/*
Douglas, having pushed her chair in as usual, went around
the table and seated himself without a word.
"Paquita certainly jingles/'
"She likes bracelets," he said trenchantly.
Mr. Bridge entered, and in passing behind Douglas's
chair gave him a solid, affectionate rap on the skull with
"Well," said Douglas, grinning, "you must have had a
Mrs. Bridge * 193
good day today. You make another million bucks or some-
Mr. Bridge laughed and picked up the carving knife, and
while examining the roast he said, "I hear you're turning
into quite a basketball player/'
"Who told you that?"
"Never mind who told me."
"Oh, I don't know/' Douglas said, blushing. He played
forward on the church team and was trying to make the
high-school squad but so far had been unsuccessful.
"Maybe you should butter up the coach's daughter/' said
Mr. Bridge, busying himself with the roast.
Douglas groaned in elaborate agony. "Anyway, I don't
even know if he's got a daughter. And besides, that's no
way to make the team/'
"Well, how else are you going to do it?"
"Oh, you have to play just the way the coach likes. I
mean he likes real smooth dribbling and things like that
that really aren't important. I guess I told you about our
church team skunking the Southwest second team, didn't I?"
"Yes, you did. Pass your mother's plate/'
"Well, doesn't it stand to reason that if we can beat the
second team we ought to be at least as good as the first
team? I mean, this coach has got his favorites, see? And if
you aren't one of his favorites, well, you just don't have a
Mr. Bridge glanced at him and said calmly, "You're
joking about that, so I don't mind. But don't let me catch
you whining seriously. This million dollars you referred to
if I had earned it I wouldn't have earned it from being
the judge's favorite. This country operates on the principle
that the more industry and intelligence a man applies to
his job the more he is entitled to profit. I hope it never
194 * Mrs. Bridge
"Yuh, okay/* Douglas muttered, trying to end the con-
versation before it turned into a lecture.
"I will. Okay. Okay."
The telephone rang at that moment and Harriet came
into the dining room to say it was for Mr. Bridge. No sooner
was he out of the room when Mrs. Bridge remarked, "I
saw Patty Duncan the other day. She asked how you were."
"Tell her I'm still alive and kicking."
"She's such a lovely girl. And they say she's becoming quite
"Okay," said Douglas, who had found himself assaulted
from both ends of the dinner table. "For the love of Mike,
I mean can't I live my own life?"
For the remainder of the meal she said no more about
the encounter on the Plaza, but it had so disturbed her that
she waited up until he got in late that night.
"Were you out with Paquita?" she asked, gazing at him
In silence, face averted, Douglas took off his leather jacket.
"Does she live around here?" Mrs. Bridge asked, following
him to the closet and picking a bit of lint from his sweater.
He hung up the jacket and walked into the living room,
where he took a comb from his hip pocket, stooped a little
in order to see himself in the mirror, for he was now almost
six feet tall and still growing soon he would be taller than
his father and began combing his long red hair straight
back in the style he had recently adopted. His hair would
not lie down, it grew stubbornly in various directions, and
the more he combed it the more rebellious it looked, but
he would not give in and the hair would not lie down.
"You're just like your Dad," she said, observing him, and
there was not only love but vexation in her tone. Douglas,
scowling, combed his hair and mashed it with his palms.
As soon as he lifted his hands the hairs began to rise.
Mrs. Bridge # 195
"Dear/* she said, having followed him from the closet.
She now stood a little way in back of him, looking at his
face in the mirror. He slipped the comb in his pocket and
bent a look of deep hatred against the mirror.
"What is it?" he asked brutally.
"Oh, I don't know."
"Well, good night/' he said and turned to go upstairs,
but she reached out and caught his arm.
"Douglas, why do you want to go around with that sort
At this he jerked his arm free and went to the closet,
where he got his jacket and left the house again. She remained
with one hand resting on the banister and was sick with
anxiety, not so much because of the girl, for she knew he
would outgrow her, but because she did not want to lose
his friendship. She had lost his love, she knew not why, as
she had forfeited that of Ruth, and the thought of losing
her son entirely was more than she could endure.
The next night he borrowed the Lincoln to escort Paquita
to a basketball tournament in the municipal auditorium.
While driving down Troost toward the north end of town,
where she lived with her sister, who was a burlesque dancer,
he passed a drive-in restaurant. He neither stopped nor
slowed down, but as he went by his attention was caught
ig6 #> Mrs. Bridge
by a singularly voluptuous carhop, with the result that when
the traffic light changed he did not see it because he was
looking backward. He drove into the rear o the car ahead
of him. No one was injured, but all parties were somewhat
dazed and Douglas got himself a lump on the forehead. The
grille of the Lincoln was dented and a wheel knocked out of
At home, when asked how the accident occurred, he replied
without hesitation that it was because of a woman.
"Oh-ho!" said Mr. Bridge, who was of the opinion that
traffic problems would disappear on the day women were
no longer licensed to drive. "What have I been saying all
these years?" He asked his son no more questions, only took
the paper on which Douglas had written the license number
of the other car, and said he would notify the insurance
Douglas wisely volunteered no further information and
believed he had gotten out of the embarrassing accident
rather cleverly until he chanced to look at his mother. Al-
though she had not said a word, he perceived that in some
fantastic manner she sensed the complete truth, and he
reflected that in matters however distantly related to sex
she possessed supernatural powers of divination.
Mrs. Bridge * 197
Ordinarily Mrs. Bridge examined the laundry that Ingrid
carried up from the basement every Tuesday afternoon in
a creaking wicker basket, but when she was out shopping, or
at a luncheon, the job fell to Harriet, who never paid much
attention to such things as missing buttons or loose elastic.
Thus it was that Mrs. Bridge discovered Douglas wearing
a shirt with cuffs that were noticeably frayed.
"For heaven's sake!" she exclaimed, taking hold of his
sleeve. "Has a dog been chewing on this?"
He looked down at the threads as though he had never
before seen them; in fact he hadn't.
"Surely you don't intend to wear this shirt?"
Since he was already wearing the shirt this struck him as
a foolish question, but he said, "It looks perfectly okay to
"Why, just look at these cuffs! Anyone would think we
were on our way to the poorhouse."
"So is it a disgrace to be poor?"
"No!" she cried. "But we're not poor!"
198 # Mrs. Bridge
Thereafter she kept a sharp eye on the laundry, going through
it piece by piece to see what needed mending, after which
she separated it into three stacks: one for the master bed-
room, one for the room which Ruth and Carolyn had
shared and which now was Carolyn's alone, and a third
for Douglas's room. One by one she carried these piles of
clothing into the proper room and there divided them further,
handkerchiefs, underwear, blouses, and so forth, and arranged
them neatly in the proper drawers.
One afternoon she carried Douglas's laundry into his room
as usual and placed it on his bed as she always did in order
to sort it. She put the newly laundered shirts on top of
the others in his dresser and was about to go on with her
work when it occurred to her that in all likelihood he was
wearing the same shirts again and again; probably the ones
in the bottom of the drawer were never being worn, and
with the idea of reversing the order she took them all out
and beneath the final shirt she found a magazine. Although
she had never before seen one like it she knew instinctively
what it was.
Mrs. Bridge sank to the edge of the bed and gazed dismally
at the wall, the unopened magazine in her hands. She could
hear Harriet singing hymns in the kitchen while peeling
green apples for a pie, and the fervency of those good shrill
Mrs. Bridge ** *99
Christian notes caused Mrs. Bridge to feel more desolate
and abandoned than ever. She closed her eyes and shook
her head in disbelief. The last thing on earth she wanted
was to look Into this magazine, but it had to be done.
She looked at one page. There was a naked woman. That
was enough. She looked no more. Never in her life had
she been confronted with a situation like this and she did
not know what to do. She was under the impression that
these magazines had been legislated against and were not
available. She asked herself where she had failed. With him,
as with Ruth and Carolyn, she had adroitly steered around
threatening subjects; in no way had she stimulated his
curiosity quite the contrary. Where, then, had she failed?
She had let him realize, without her having to say so, that
there were two kinds of people in the world, and this was
true, she knew, for it was what she had been taught by her
father and mother.
She kept expecting Douglas to say something about the
magazine which she burned in the incinerator but if he
noticed it was gone he gave no indication. Weeks passed.
She did not want to rush him. She wanted him to come to
her and confess of his own free will. Carolyn was now a
freshman at the university, which was located in the town
of Lawrence, about forty miles distant; she often came home
on week ends, but during the week she was gone, with the
result that Mrs. Bridge and Douglas were sometimes the
only members of the family at the dinner table. These
dinners were silent and unpleasant for them both; they tended
to avoid looking at each other. She waited patiently for the
moment when he would give a sign a single deep look
would be enough and she would know then that he wanted
to have a talk. Still time went by and, since he made no
move, she began to fasten her eyes on him. These mute
invitations had a singular effect on Douglas; whenever he
became conscious of her mournful, wretched gaze he would
20o * Mrs. Bridge
leave the house. She thought he was touched and full of
remorse at the unhappiness he was causing and so she con-
tinued to gaze deeply at him whenever they were alone.
However, more time went by and for some reason he failed
to come to her.
One evening, therefore, she walked upstairs to his room
and tapped on the door with her fingernail. The door was
closed but she knew he was at his desk and that he was
staring at the door. She was right, because after she had
waited a few minutes she heard the chair creak and then
his footsteps on the carpet. He jerked the door open and
found her there smiling miserably. She glided past him into
the room and to his desk where, without a word, she placed
on the blotter a slim, musty pamphlet with a gray cover and
sepia pages which she had gotten from a trunk in the attic.
The pamphlet had a faint dried odor, like the crumbled
wings of moths, and the elaborate typography related a
little story about the marriage of a sperm and an ovum.
On the frontispiece, beneath an attached sheet of tissue,
were two circular photographs taken from laboratory slides.
He had followed her across the room and was now standing
on the opposite side of the desk with his fists clenched
behind his back. Seeing him so tense she thought that if
she could only manage to rumple his hair as she used to
do when he was a small boy everything would be all right.
Calmly, and a little slyly, she began easing toward him.
Seeing that she was after him he also moved to keep the
desk between them.
Mrs. Bridge * 201
Words of Wisdom
A few days later on his return from high school Douglas
saw, beneath the hairbrush on his dresser, a page torn
from a magazine. On one side of the page was an automobile
advertisement, and on the other side was a picture of an
elderly Chinese gentleman called the Old Sage, together
with a list of maxims:
^| It is as easy to grin as to growl.
^[ Hatred is self-punishment.
^| Rotten or decayed wood cannot be carved.
^f Have no care for the future and you will sorrow for the
^f Life is a mirror that gives back as much as it receives.
^f A record is often broken when competition gets keen.
^f A good cure for drunkenness is while sober to see a drunken
f Courage at the critical moment is half the victory.
^f Words show the wit of a man, actions his meanings.
^f The anvil lasts longer than the hammer.
^f The pleasure of doing good is never tiresome.
f Contentment is an inexhaustible treasure.
f A handful of common sense is worth a bushel of learning.
Douglas went through these more and more rapidly.
Having finished, and not knowing exactly what to do with
the list, thinking she might want it back, he put it in a
202 * Mrs. Bridge
desk drawer and paid no further attention to it. In the days
that followed their eyes occasionally met and locked, in-
He knew she was waiting for him to comment; she knew
he had read the maxims.
Very Gay Indeed
Ruth did not write home as often as Mrs. Bridge had ex-
pected, nor was it possible to guess from her letters what
sort of a life she was leading in New York; however she
seemed to be getting along all right and did not sound un-
happy. She wrote that she had moved into an apartment
near the Hudson, that she was now working for a fashion
magazine, and that she hoped for a promotion before long.
In April she was promoted; she became an "assistant editor,"
whatever that meant, but it did sound important and Mrs.
Bridge was very proud and let her friends know about
Ruth's success. That same month they were surprised and
delighted when she flew home for a visit. She had changed
a great deal; she had become very sophisticated.
Carolyn came home from the university that week end,
and Mrs. Bridge was struck by the difference in the girls.
It was hard to believe they were sisters Ruth so dark and
sleek, and really too thin, angular, sauntering about and
smoking one cigarette after another and having cocktails
with her father as though she had been drinking for years;
Mrs. Bridge # 203
Carolyn so active and blond and determined, and rather
sturdy-looking in low-heeled golfing shoes, for she had begun
playing golf in high school and was now getting exceptionally
Ruth was undeniably more mature and Mrs. Bridge noticed
an odd fact: Ruth and Douglas liked each other very much.
There was no reason they should not in fact they certainly
should like each other but she could not get over a sense
of astonishment when she heard them laughing together, or
saw them earnestly talking in the breakfast room, drinking
pots of coffee and discussing she did not know what. They
appeared to have developed a new relationship. They were
no longer just brother and sister, and Mrs, Bridge felt a
little thrilled and more than a little sad.
She and Ruth did not have much time alone, and all at
once, so it seemed, Ruth was on the telephone checking her
plane reservation to New York. On her last evening in
Kansas City the two of them remained in the dining room
after Douglas and Mr. Bridge had left the table. They had
only a few minutes because a young man named Callaway
Rugg was coming to take Ruth to a Little Theatre pro-
duction of Cyrano, but while they were talking at the dinner
table she mentioned that one of the men who worked in
her office in New York was a homosexual.
"Just what do you mean, Ruth?" asked Mrs. Bridge soberly.
She had picked up a spoon and was slowly stirring her coffee.
"Why, he's gay, Mother. Queer. You know/'
"I'm afraid I don't know," said Mrs. Bridge.
Ruth could not tell whether her mother was serious or
not. The idea of her mother not knowing was too incredible,
and yet, thinking back, and having talked with Douglas
about things that had happened recently, and after a long,
probing look into her mother's eyes, Ruth knew her mother
was speaking the truth. This realization so shocked her that
she said coldly, "Then it's time you found out." Feeling
204 * Mrs. Bridge
cruel and nervous and frightened she continued, in the same
tone, "I'm very fond of him, Mother. One morning he
brought me a dozen long-stemmed roses/'
From the hall came the sound of the front door chimes.
Immediately Ruth jumped up and hurried to open the
door, leaving Mrs. Bridge as isolated as she had ever been
in her life, as she had been isolated by her husband that
day on the rue Auber.
Seldom had anyone from the country-club district attracted
national attention, but there had been a few. A girl named
Catlett, whose mother Mrs. Bridge knew slightly, went off
to the Bahamas for a summer vacation and came back
triumphantly engaged to a senator. Then there were the
twins who were featured in a toothpaste advertisement, and
occasionally one of the older men would be mentioned. But
of the younger people the most celebrated was Callaway
Rugg. He was a few years older than Ruth, but he had known
her in high school and used to take her on long drives
through the country; he would speak of the brevity of human
affairs and of how vital it was to live as one wanted to
live. He himself did not know how he wanted to live, but
after playing in some dramatic productions staged in a barn
on the outskirts of the city he was picked up by a talent
scout and sent to Hollywood, where for the first two weeks
Mrs. Bridge * 205
they were under the impression he was a lion tamer. After
this was straightened out he was put into a movie- The
Tattler spoke of "Kansas City's own Carleton Reynolds/'
which was what Hollywood named him. Surprisingly, or so
Mrs. Bridge had thought, the fact that he was a Kansas
Citian did not noticeably increase the run of the picture.
She had gone to see it. Rugg had appeared in only one
scene: on the stroke of midnight, arms bound behind his
back and a sack over his head, he fell out of a grandfather
"Of course his part was small/' she had remarked while
discussing it with Madge Arlen, "but I do think he's quite
However Hollywood must not have thought so, for Rugg
was next heard from selling encyclopedias on the Plaza.
Exchange o Letters
The new Tattler came out a few days after Ruth returned
to New York and Mrs. Bridge mailed a clipping to her;
"Found holidaying at the charming home of her parents,
Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bridge of Crescent Heights Drive, was
the lovely eldest, Ruth, now setting Gotham aflame. Scores of
admirers hope the fascinating and exotic editoress-to-be
won't become a permanent Manhattanite." On the back of
the clipping was the conclusion of an article of advice to
hostesses: ". . . jungle the natives simply peel and eat, and
2o6 # Mrs. Bridge
so should we! No more worry about knives and forks, left-
hand or righthand." And below this was the first line of a
quotation from Thoreau.
Mrs. Bridge wrote that Carolyn was playing golf every
afternoon and had beaten one of the boys who was on
the university team, that the weather in Kansas City was
awfully pleasant this time of year, that some man named
Genaro had telephoned just after she returned to New York
but hadn't left a message, that the city was finally widening
the street in front of the Junior League clubhouse, and that
her visit to Kansas City had seemed awfully brief. Ruth had
remarked on the graft in New York, so Mrs. Bridge wrote,
"Isn't it awful there's so much graft? We have it here, too.
It just makes you wonder about people."
She also mentioned what had been going on socially and
what events were on the calendar. ''Wednesday evening the
Arlens are staging a cocktail party for Anne who's off to
Europe and it sounds quite intriguing. Thursday, Madge
and I are off to a recital given by some folk singer who
plays the dulcimer, and then on Friday there's to be a church
doing (at which a Moslem will talk!) but I'm not sure
I'll be able to make it. I've been having a siege of headaches
and they just don't seem to be able to make heads or tails
of them. Dr. Stapp told me it's all mental but that doesn't
make sense. Dr. Mclntyre (he's so nice!) thinks it may be an
allergy but if so I wish they'd hurry up and get together,
whatever it is. Then next Monday there's a reception at
Crestwood for the McKinney girls who're just back from a
month at the Royal Hawaiian. That must have been
grand. . . ."
Ruth chose to answer this letter one night while she was
in bed with a man named Dowdey, whom she had met the
previous week. She wrestled the pillow away from him and
put it behind her back in order to sit up more comfortably,
and with an airmail pad on her knees she began:
Mrs. Bridge # 207
"The weather in New York has been lovely, but other-
wise there isn't very much news. I can't stand my boss because
he's an absolute tyrant, but everybody else is nice, and we're
trying a new format that I like better. A man who works
in the next office" and she dropped one hand to give
Dowdey a pinch on the buttocks "has been awfully sweet
although I don't know him very well yet. I haven't been
going out much lately, I usually come home after work and
get to bed early. It was marvelous seeing everybody in Kansas
City." Here she paused and tapped the pen against her teeth,
and finally added that she hoped to visit Kansas City again
Dowdey, having rolled over and raised himself to one
elbow, was reading the letter with his chin propped on
"Jus' like I aim to get back to San Antone," he said, and
began kissing her throat.
"Hush/' she said. "And stop. You're bothering me!"
"Come on down here and le's bother all over/' said
Dowdey, "on account of you can write yo' little mama in the
"Cut that out/' said Ruth. "Now cut that out!*'
"Yo* mama look like you?" he asked, sliding his arms
around her waist.
"She's my sister's mother!"
And as if by hearing these words she realized what she
had said, Ruth touched her lover gently and looked down
into his unblinking hazel eyes. She caressed the wind wrinkles
of his leathery face; he became solemn and expectant.
"I'll only be a little while/' she said. For a few minutes
she sat with her knees drawn up to her chin and gazed
across the river and the buildings on the western shore, and
she was able to see her home, not as it was now, but ten
years before, at a time in her life when she would never
have thought to say her mother was not her own: when
so8 * Mrs. Bridge
she had been as tall as the new evergreen trees in the yard,
when her brother was a baby. Now this was gone, and it
was gone forever. She wondered why she was in New York,
why she would soon give herself to this man for whom she
had no feeling.
"I don't think it's her fault/' Ruth whispered, with her
head on her knees, and when Dowdey asked what she had
said she did not answer. Presently she sighed and continued
with the letter, thanking her mother for sending a box of
oatmeal cookies Harriet had baked, and said they were
wonderful, though in truth they had arrived broken and
crushed, and she had sprinkled them on the window sill
for the pigeons. Having signed the letter with love, as she
always did, she ordered Dowdey to open his mouth and hold
out his tongue to lick the envelope.
"That all?" he asked, grinning, as she leaned across him
to place the letter on the night table.
"It depends on what you mean," Ruth said. She turned
out the light. When he covered her she was looking across
the dark river, gravely thinking of her home.
With Ruth gone and with Carolyn at home only an occasional
week end, with Mr. Bridge continuing to spend long hours
at the office, and with Douglas appearing only for meals,
Mrs. Bridge found the days growing interminable; she could
Mrs. Bridge * 209
not remember when a day had seemed so long since the
infinite hours of childhood, and so she began casting about
rueful and disconsolate for some way to occupy the time.
There were mornings when she lay in bed wide awake until
noon, afraid to get up because there was nothing to do. She
knew Harriet would take care of ordering the groceries,
Harriet would take care of everything, Harriet somehow
was running the house and Mrs. Bridge had the dismal
sensation of knowing that she, herself, could leave town
for a week and perhaps no one would get overly excited. At
breakfast lunch if she chose to call it so she would consider
the newspaper with sober apathy, sighing at the events in
Europe, lethargically eating whatever Harriet prepared toast
and orange juice, chipped beef and cinnamon rolls, fruit
salad, bacon and tomato sandwich, a dish of sherbet; what-
ever it happened to be Mrs. Bridge would eat some of it
though it seemed tasteless. Summer had come again, another
summer, another year.
One warm windy morning in June she could hardly open
her eyes; she lay in the stuffy bedroom and listened to the
wind in the trees, to the scratching of the evergreen branches
against the house, and wondered if she was about to die.
She did not feel ill, but she had no confidence in her life.
Why should her heart keep beating? What was there to live
for? Then she grew cheerful because she recalled her husband
had told her to get the Lincoln waxed and polished. In
fact he had told her that three weeks ago but she had not
yet gotten around to it. Now, in any event, there was some-
thing to do; she would do the work herself. She would drive
to the Plaza to an auto-supply store and buy a can of wax
and some polish and a chamois, or whatever the salesman
recommended, and she would spend the day working on
the Lincoln. It had been years since she had done any work,
with the exception of puttering in the garden, and it would
be refreshing. But then, still in bed, she became doubtful
210 ^ Mrs. Bridge
and more reasonable. She had never attempted to polish an
automobile, she knew nothing about it, nothing whatso-
ever, and if she should ruin the finish of the Lincoln what
on earth could she say to her husband? He would be amazed
and furious because it was so nonsensical; he would manage
to control his temper but he would be infuriated all the
same, and want to know why she had done it. Could she
explain how the leisure of her life that exquisite idleness
he had created by giving her everything was driving her
However, she reflected, as she got out of bed holding a
hand to her brow to prevent herself from collapsing, she
could at least drive to the Plaza and wander around while
the Lincoln was being polished. She could look into Ban-
croft's; perhaps they had some new imports. She could
have a late luncheon in the tea shoppe. Surely something
else would come to mind by then and soon the day would
Once out of bed she felt more alive, and while getting
dressed she thought of telephoning Grace Barron. Perhaps
they could spend the day together. No one answered the
Barrens' phone. After a few minutes she tried again with no
success and then dialed Madge Arlen. The line was busy.
She knew from past experience that Madge stayed on the
telephone for hours, but now the Plaza idea had begun to
sound exciting with or without company and she began to
hurry around getting ready to go, and was annoyed with
herself for having wasted the entire morning. It was fifteen
minutes to one when Mrs. Bridge came downstairs. Harriet
was vacuuming the hall. Mrs. Bridge signaled her to stop the
machine, and when the roaring died away she said, looking
quickly into her purse to see she had not forgotten any-
thing, 'I've got to run to the Plaza to have the car taken
care of. It needs waxing. If anybody calls, tell them I'll be
home about five/'
Mrs. Bridge * 211
Harriet replied that Mr. Bridge had had the car waxed
and polished the previous Saturday.
Mrs. Bridge stopped and looked at her in stupefaction.
"He did? I wonder why he didn't mention it."
Harriet did not say anything.
"Are you sure?" asked Mrs. Bridge.
"Oh. Well, then," she said doubtfully, "I suppose it doesn't
need to be done again. Isn't that strange? He must have
forgotten to tell me." She noticed Harriet looking at her
without expression, but intently, and she became embar-
rassed. She dropped the car keys back in her purse and slowly
took off her hat. She had driven the Lincoln several times
since Saturday and it was odd she had not noticed the
Harriet turned on the vacuum.
After changing into more comfortable clothes Mrs. Bridge
wandered to the kitchen, fixed a sandwich for herself, and
sat in the breakfast room for about an hour watching the
sparrows in the garden. Finally she managed to get Madge
Arlen on the telephone.
"Lord, I'm glad you called!" her friend exclaimed. "I'm
out of my wits for something to do."
"Come on over this minute," said Mrs. Bridge.
"Are you in the same fix?"
"I should say I am!"
And now the day took shape and Mrs. Bridge was no
longer embarrassed. She had found she was not alone, and
if others felt as she felt there was no reason to be depressed.
The hours no longer loomed ahead; it was just another warm
June day. A few minutes later Madge Arlen was coming in
the front door, wearing a loose lavender gaucho blouse,
chartreuse slacks, and cork wedgies that made her nearly
six feet tall. She was smoking one of the English cigarettes
she liked but which were now so hard to obtain. Harriet
212 * Mrs. Bridge
made some coffee, for Madge Arlen drank coffee all day,
and they sat on the porch and talked. The British were
concluding the evacuation of Dunkirk, and for a while Mrs.
Bridge and Madge Arlen discussed the war,
"So many of the boys are joining up/' Mrs. Bridge re-
marked. "It certainly changes things. I notice the difference
everywhere. Piggly Wiggly still delivers, thank heavens, but
the service is so much slower than it used to be and I
was so surprised the other morning to see they have a girl
driving the truck/'
"Just wait till Congress passes a draft law. Lord, we'll
see the difference then!"
"Oh, I hope not! I'm sure the war will be over soon, and
of course we're doing everything humanly possible to stay
out of it."
And they talked about people they knew. Grace Barren's
son, David, had been taking violin lessons for a number of
years and wanted to make a career of music. His father
disapproved of this and, as everyone knew, the Barrons were
not getting along well. Madge Arlen mentioned that the
situation was worse.
"Being a professional musician does sound exciting/'
Mrs. Bridge observed. "But I just wonder how practical
it would be. Oh, my word, it's four o'clock already! I don't
know about you, Madge, but I'm simply famished."
They went to the kitchen and Mrs. Bridge looked into
"Strawberries and whipped cream?" she suggested. "These
are frozen, of course. They don't really taste the same as
the fresh, but they certainly are a time-saver."
Mrs. Bridge *
Reflections on Montaigne
The Tattler killed many an interminable hour. She read it,
not avidly, but thoroughly, from Bancroft's full-page ad in-
side the front cover to Mr. Alexander's striking floral ad on
Of all the things in The Tattler she was most impressed
with the philosophy. Between snapshots of country-club
residents enjoying themselves at their favorite swimming pool,
or on the golf links, and items of gossip regarding prominent
Kansas Citians, the editors of The Tattler customarily sand-
wiched a thought or two preferably cheerful, affirmative at
the very least. Emerson and Saint Francis were frequent con-
tributors; Oliver Wendell Holmes was a great favorite. The
observations of such eminent men were set in italics and
were apt to be followed by, "I wonder if the scion of a
certain well-known famille doesn't realize his many conquests
are causing talk among the younger set."
Mrs. Bridge, being considerably interested in these maxims,
had at one point thought of beginning a nice scrapbook
with the idea of handing it on to the children. Though she
had not found time for this she continued to try to memorize
certain quotations, despite the fact that there never seemed
to be an appropriate occasion to re-quote them. A line from
Montaigne set her to thinking.
214 * &*>* Bridge
I have always observed a singular accord between super-
celestial ideas and subterranean behavior.
In less crystalline style she had observed somewhat the
same thing and was puzzled by it: she recalled the strange
case of Dr. Foster, who had been positively identified at the
burlesque, not once which could have been attributed to
his gathering material for a sermon but several times.
Furthermore he never mentioned it.
Over the wisdom of Montaigne she brooded, eventually
reaching the conclusion that if super-celestial ideas were
necessarily accompanied by subterranean behavior it might
be better to forego them both.
She looked forward to Saturdays because on that day she
was occupied with the distribution of used clothing at the
Auxiliary charity center on Ninth Street. Usually she went
with Madge Arlen. One week they would drive to work in
the Arlens' Chrysler, the next week in the Lincoln, and when
it was Mrs. Bridge's turn she drew up before the garage
where her husband parked. There she honked the horn, or
beckoned if someone happened to be in sight, and shortly an
attendant whose name was Hal would come out of the garage
buttoning on a white duster and he would ride in the rear
seat to the charity center. There he would jump out and open
Mrs. Bridge # 215
the door for Mrs. Bridge, and after that he would drive the
Lincoln back to the garage because she did not like it left
on the street in such a neighborhood.
"Suppose you come by for us around six, or six-fifteen-
ish, Hal/' she would say.
He always answered that he would be glad to, touched
the visor of his cap, and drove away.
"He seems so nice/' said Mrs. Arlen as the two of them
walked into the center.
"Oh, he is!" Mrs. Bridge agreed. "He's one of the nicest
garage men I've ever had."
"How long have you been parking there?'*
"Quite some time. We used to park at that dreadful
place on Walnut/'
"The one with the popcorn machine? Lord, isn't that
"No, not that place. The one with the Italians. You know
how my husband is about Italians. Well, that just seemed to
be headquarters for them. They flocked in there by the dozen
to eat their lunch and listen to some opera broadcast from
New York. It was just impossible. So finally Walter said,
Tm going to change garages/ So we did/'
The charity center had not yet been opened for the day.
Mrs. Bridge and Mrs. Arlen walked between the counters
piled high with sour, unwashed clothing, past the reform-
school boys who were emptying sacks of clothing on the
floor, and continued into the back room, which was reserved
for Auxiliary members. Lois Montgomery was there, and
Mabel Ong and Rebecca Duncan, along with several other
ladies. They were having coffee and eclairs as they always
did before starting work. Mrs. Bridge and Mrs. Arlen joined
After a while the doors were unlocked and the first of
the poor entered. Behind the counters waiting to assist
them were Mrs. Bridge and her friends, all wearing gloves.
2i6 # Mrs. Bridge
Marching with Dr. Foster
For a few months Grace Barron worked at the charity
center; then she quit, abruptly, without offering an ex-
planation. Mrs. Bridge was hurt by this, for it seemed un-
like Grace Barron to be inconsiderate. Then, too, Mrs.
Bridge reflected, she had always been so concerned about
the welfare of others; still she did have streaks of peculiarity,
as, for instance, her attitude toward Dr. Foster, whom Mrs.
Bridge considered not only one of the nicest men she had
ever met, but also one of the most intelligent. Grace, in-
explicably, was amused by Dr. Foster.
Mrs. Bridge regretted having told her about a rather
unfortunate slip of the tongue which occurred at the start
of the benediction on Palm Sunday. Dr. Foster had said,
"With eyes bowed and heads closed . . ."
True, this was unfortunate, but, as she promptly added
in defense of the minister, "It could happen to anyone."
Grace probably didn't hear; she was laughing hysterically.
"I knew I should have gone last Sunday," she said, wiping
the tears from her eyes, "Oh, I'm so sorry I missed that!"
Then there had been that awful day when the elevator
plunged into the bargain basement. It was a dark, rainy
afternoon and Mrs. Bridge had gone downtown and was
browsing through the basement of one of the department
Mrs. Bridge #217
stores in search of something humorous to give as a booby
prize at a forthcoming card party. She was examining some
celluloid toys when all at once there was a noise like a
shot and a shrill singing whine and a rumble, and before
she could understand what it was all about the elevator
crashed not ten steps from where she stood. Later it turned
out that the elevator had not fallen as far as everyone
thought; in fact it had only dropped about six or eight
feet. Even so, it made a great noise and most of the passengers
dropped their parcels and one or two fell down. Mrs.
Bridge had not yet recovered from her surprise and was
only looking rather blankly at the people in the elevator,
who themselves were stunned into momentary silence and
were looking blindly out of the cage, when someone began
to scream for help. It was someone in the rear of the elevator,
and presently this person fought his way through the other
passengers and got to the front where he grabbed the cage
and began shaking it.
"Why, Dr. Foster!" said Mrs. Bridge, and then there was
so much confusion and so many people rushing around that
she lost track of him.
He was not badly injured, as she had supposed he was;
he had a sprained ankle. He went about on a cane for
quite a while afterward longer, in fact, than she had ever
seen anyone employ a cane for a sprained ankle and for
several weeks more he hobbled and alluded dryly to his
accident. Mrs. Bridge was a little disappointed in him with-
out knowing just why. However there was certainly nothing
funny about the accident, and she was quite put out with
Grace for laughing when she heard of it.
Her entire attitude toward religion was flippant, and Mrs.
Bridge did not think it was in very good taste. After one of
the Auxiliary meetings she chanced to be nearby when Grace
got on the subject of religion and said there was a rumor
2i8 # Mrs. Bridge
that after Christ was sentenced to death He turned to one
of the soldiers and said, "When am I going to learn to
keep my big mouth shut?"
Mrs. Bridge smiled courteously, as she never failed to
do when someone told a joke, and though she did not
believe God was planning to strike Grace dead, still she
could not see there was anything to be gained by asking
Frequently she attempted to interest her in religion, or
at least in the habit of attending church, but the attempts
were unsuccessful. It was a rare Sunday when she encoun-
tered Grace among the crowd on the church steps after
In the center of the church lawn stood a green wooden
cupboard with a glass front. Each Thursday morning the
janitor came out with a manila envelope full of white
celluloid letters about two inches tall, and with these he
composed the title of Dr. Foster's forthcoming sermon. Mrs.
Bridge was pleased to see the Barrons* Cadillac parked in the
lot one Sunday morning when the sermon was entitled:
Should We Go to Church?
Naturally no one believed Dr. Foster would decide in
favor of the negative, yet Mrs. Bridge could not help being
irked when Grace whispered that she could hardly wait to
find out. In a few minutes Dr. Foster appeared and ascended
to the pulpit. He was growing more stout and more dignified
every year. Solemnly he gazed down upon the congregation.
At such times Mrs. Bridge thought he looked every inch the
Man of God. She remembered seeing him one day on the
Plaza; he had been studying himself in the mirror of a
cigarette machine and she thought she had never seen him
look more impressive. It was only at cocktail parties that
he seemed unable to avoid little belches, after which he
would stare with severity at the sandwich or cocktail in his
"Should we go to church?" asked Dr. Foster of his audience.
He allowed a few seconds for everyone to ponder. ''Should
we go to church?" he repeated. He cleared his throat,
placed his hands on the sides of the lectern, and began.
The sub-title of the sermon was "Unexplored Warehouses
of the Cliff Dwellers." The parable had to do with the fact
that in plentiful years the Mesa Verde Indians stored part
of their harvest in cliff houses and in time of famine they
ate what they had saved.
A few minutes after noon Dr. Foster was winding it up.
"We, of this more enlightened age, can surely benefit from
the wisdom of those ancient savages. They learned to store
their surplus against the time of dire necessity, and so it is
when we go to church. ..."
A few minutes later he descended and strode magnificently
through the swinging doors. The last they saw of him was
the tail of his black and royal purple cassock. To Mrs.
Bridge he had seemed unusually eloquent and moving, and
it was very strange, she thought, that throughout the sermon
Grace was inattentive and listless. Afterward, on the steps,
they talked for a little while.
"Grace," Mrs. Bridge said impulsively, and took her by
the hand, "is something troubling you?"
"No," she whispered, with her eyes tightly shut. "No, no,
"There is!" cried Mrs. Bridge. "I know there is!" But at
this point they were interrupted by the arrival of the men
and whatever might have been revealed was lost.
22O # Mrs. Bridge
'Quo Vadis, Madame?
That evening, while preparing for bed, Mrs. Bridge suddenly
paused with the fingertips of one hand just touching her cheek.
She was seated before her dressing table in her robe and slip-
pers and had begun spreading cold cream on her face. The
touch of the cream, the unexpectedness of it for she had
been thinking deeply about how to occupy tomorrow the
swift cool touch demoralized her so completely that she al-
She continued spreading the cream over her features, stead-
ily observing herself in the mirror, and wondered who she
was, and how she happened to be at the dressing table, and
who the man was who sat on the edge of the bed taking off his
shoes. She considered her fingers, which dipped into the jar of
their own accord. Rapidly, soundlessly, she was disappearing
into white, sweetly scented anonymity. Gratified by this she
smiled, and perceived a few seconds later that beneath the
mask she was not smiling. All the same, being committed,
there was nothing to do but proceed.
Mrs. Bridge 221
She was wakened by the chimes of the grandfather clock in
the hall. It was three or four in the morning. Her husband was
sleeping easily, but gravely, as though exhausted. She awoke
simultaneously with the knowledge of one morning many
years before when she had been dusting the bookcase and
came across an old, old red-gold volume. Taking it down she
found on the flyleaf in dry, spidery script the name of Shannon
Bridge, who was the uncle of her husband an unambitious,
taciturn man who had married a night-club entertainer and
later died of a heart attack in Mexico, and upon whose death
they had inherited a few books and charts. She had no idea
what the charts were about, for she had not unrolled them,
only stored them in the attic, and then one day, absently, since
they were useless, she had discarded them; and as for the books,
no one had read them, so far as she knew, though later she
found Douglas examining them, and now at four in the morn-
ing she was lying completely awake, thinking of the time she
had taken a book down from a shelf and had begun turning
the brittle, yellowed pages. She stood beside the bookcase for
quite a while, growing absorbed in what she read, and wan-
dered, still reading, into the living room, where she did not
look up from the book until someone called her, because she
had come upon a passage which had been underlined, no
doubt by Shannon Bridge, which observed that some people
222 * Mrs. Bridge
go skimming over the years of existence to sink gently into a
placid grave, ignorant of life to the last, without ever having
been made to see all it may contain; and this passage she had
read once again, and brooded over it, and turned back to it
again, and was thinking deeply when she was interrupted.
And Mrs. Bridge remembered now that she had risen and
had said, "Yes, all right, I'm on my way/' and had placed the
book on the mantel, for she had intended to read further. She
wondered what had interfered, where she had gone, and why
she had never returned.
Mabel Ong was going to an analyst. Mrs. Bridge was surprised
to learn this because Mabel in her tailored suits and with her
authoritative masculine manner had always seemed the very
picture of confidence. At luncheon club not long after Dr.
Foster's eloquent sermon on church attendance she found
herself sitting next to Mabel, and by the time luncheon was
over Mrs. Bridge was convinced that she, too, needed analy-
sis. She had, in fact, privately thought so long before her talk
with Mabel. More and more it had occurred to her that she
was no longer needed. Ruth was gone, so very gone even her
letters said so little and Carolyn was almost gone, and Doug-
las, though still at home, was growing so independent, more
like his father every year. Soon he too would be leaving home.
What would she do then? It had been a long time, she felt,
Mrs. Bridge #223
since her husband truly needed her. He accepted her, and he
loved her, of this she had never had a doubt, but he was
accustomed to and quite unconscious of love, whereas she
wanted him to think about it and to tell her about it. The
promise of the past had been fulfilled: she had three fine chil-
dren and her husband was wonderfully successful. But Mrs.
Bridge felt tired and ill. She wanted help.
She surmised her husband would not be sympathetic to her
idea of being psychoanalyzed, so, for a number of weeks before
mentioning it, she planned the conversation. She meant to
open with the direct, positive, almost final statement that she
was going downtown the first thing in the morning to arrange
a series of appointments. That certainly ought to settle the
matter he ought to be able to understand the situation.
Possibly he was going to inquire how much it would cost, and
she was uneasy about this, suspecting it was going to be
expensive, with the result that she avoided finding out what
it would cost. After all, in spite of his complaints, she knew,
and he was aware that she knew, that they had plenty of
She tried to imagine all his objections to her idea, but really
there was nothing he could say. He would simply be forced to
agree. It had been years since she had asked him for anything,
no matter how slight; indeed, every once in a while he would
inquire if there wasn't something she wanted anything for
the house, or for herself. No, there was nothing. It was difficult
to find things to buy. She had the money, but she had already
bought everything she could use, which was why she often
spent an entire day shopping and came home without having
bought anything except lunch, and perhaps some pastry dur-
ing the afternoon.
Having solved whatever objection he might make in regard
to the expense, she concluded that all she had to do was let
him know her intention. She kept putting it off. She rehearsed
the scene many times and it always came out satisfactorily.
224 * Mrs. Bridge
The difficulty lay in finding the opportunity to begin. So it
was that several weeks slipped away, then one evening after
supper, as they were settling themselves in the living room,
she with a bag of knitting and he with the stock-market page
of the newspaper, she knew the time had come. She pretended
to be straightening her knitting, but she was greatly occupied
with marshaling her thoughts. He always got to the heart of a
matter at once, wasting no energy on preliminaries, and she
had to be ready for this. Just then he lowered the paper and
she was terrified that somehow he had been reading her mind.
Quite often he could, and this more than anything else was
the reason she found it exceedingly difficult to defend her
ideas. He was glaring at the newspaper.
"Listen to this: The Central has asked the ICC to investi-
gate the circumstances of the sale of eight hundred thousand
shares of stock, owned by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway,
to Murchison and Richardson last week/' He looked across the
paper at her as if she were responsible.
"Well!" said Mrs. Bridge in what she thought an appro-
priate tone. It would be unwise to annoy him at this point,
but until he made it clear whose side he was on she could not
say anything specific. Her expression remained intent and
neutrally expectant, as though she wanted to hear more.
"What in God's name do those people think they're doing?"
he demanded sharply.
"It certainly doesn't seem right/' she answered, still not
certain whether the scoundrels were Central, or Chesapeake
and Ohio, or Murchison and Richardson. Or, of course, he
could be angry with the newspaper for having publicized it.
Mr. Bridge had taken off his glasses and was staring at her.
"I don't know a thing in the world about it, of course," she
He resumed reading. A few minutes later he said, "Allied
Chemical: up fourl Great Lord! What's going on here?" After
this he was quiet for a long time, coughing once, shaking the
Mrs. Bridge * 225
paper into shape. Mrs. Bridge, having noted it was almost
time for bed, decided she must speak.
"Walter/* she began in a tremulous voice, and went on
rapidly, "I've been thinking it over and I don't see any way
out except through analysis/'
He did not look up. Minutes went by. Finally he muttered,
"Australian wool is firm/' And then, roused by the sound of
his own voice, he glanced at her inquisitively. She gave him
a stark, desperate look; it was unnecessary to repeat what she
had said because he always heard everything even when he
failed to reply.
"What?" he demanded. "Nonsense/' he said absently, and
he struck the paper into submission and continued reading.
The following day being Thursday, Harriet's day off, Mrs.
Bridge prepared supper for herself and her husband. Douglas
had telephoned a few minutes after school let out to say he
was at a fraternity meeting and that as soon as it was over he
and a couple of friends were going to get a hamburger some-
where and then were going downtown to a track meet in the
"What about your homework?" she asked.
"Homework/' he replied, giving a very final opinion of it.
"Well, I don't think you should stay out late," she an-
swered. "After all, it's a week night/'
226 * Mrs. Bridge
He said he would be home early, but early could mean any
''All right now, don't forget/' she said. "Your grades haven't
been worth boasting about."
"I'll get by," said Douglas. "Holy Cow!"
"Yes, well you just might Holy Cow yourself right out of
With that the conversation ended and she went into the
kitchen to start preparing a casserole, as she had done many,
many times before. She moved around the kitchen slowly. She
had plenty of time. The house was so quiet that she began to
think of how noisy it had been when all the children were
there, how very much different everything had been, and
presently, remembering the days when she used to cook the
meals, she went to the cupboard where the old recipe books
were stored. Harriet occasionally referred to them, but other-
wise they had lain untouched for years. Mrs. Bridge began
looking through them, seeing pencil notations in her own
handwriting, scarcely legible any more. Her husband liked
more pepper in this, no bay leaves in that- whatever he
wanted and whatever he did not like was expertly registered
in the margins, and as she turned through these recipes she
thought how strangely intimate the faded penciled notes re-
mained; they brought back many scenes, many sweet and
private memories; they brought back youth.
Mrs. Bridge grew thoughtfully excited. A glance at the
electric clock on the stove panel told her there might be time
enough to alter her plans for supper. She was thinking of fixing
spaghetti for him, with the special sauce he had so often said
was the best in the world. She had not fixed it for years. Harriet
could not sense just how long to let it simmer, and without
that particular flavor to the sauce there was not much point in
eating spaghetti. A quick search of the refrigerator and of the
cupboards disclosed there were not the right ingredients. She
found some canned sauce and thought about improvising
Mrs. Bridge * 227
from it, but it would not be the same. He would taste the dif-
ference. And so, regretfully, she admitted it was going to be
the casserole again. Next week they would have spaghetti. A
little sadly she turned on through the cookbooks, and once
more she had an idea. She had come across the recipe for pine-
apple bread and there was time for that and she was certain
they had the ingredients not only the pineapple but the
chipped pecans, the raisins yes, yes, she could do it.
She carried the bread to the table wrapped in a towel be-
cause it was still hot from the oven, and Mr. Bridge, who, as
he unfolded his napkin, had been looking at the casserole with
resignation, now glanced with puzzled interest at what she was
bringing him. His expression began to brighten. He smiled.
"Oh-ho!" said Mr. Bridge, rubbing his hands together,
"What have we here?"
She placed it before him, too thrilled to speak, and hurried
back to the kitchen for the bread knife.
"Well, welir said he, accepting the knife, and he smacked
his lips and shut his eyes for a moment to inhale the fragrance
of the small plump loaf.
"Go ahead and cut it," she said to him intensely, and waited
beside his chair.
The first slice fell down like a corpse and they saw bubbles
of dank white dough around the pecans. After a moment of
silence Mrs. Bridge covered it with the towel and carried it to
the kitchen. Having disposed of the bread she untied her little
ruffled apron and waited quietly until she regained control of
A few minutes later she re-entered the dining room with a
loaf of grocery-store bread on a silver tray. She smiled and said,
"It's been a long time, I'm afraid."
"Never mind/ 1 said Mr. Bridge as he removed the lid o the
casserole, and the next day he brought her a dozen roses.
228 * Mrs. Bridge
Time was passing more rapidly than she thought; she was al-
most overcome when Carolyn appeared in the middle of the
week with an engagement ring she had gotten the night before
from a thin, shaggy boy with protruding teeth whose name
was Gil Davis. He was a junior at the university. He was study-
ing business management and working part-time in the dean's
Mrs. Bridge, seeking a moment to recover from the shock,
looked at Carolyn's ring and said, "It's an opal, isn't it?"
"Gil doesn't have much money/' Carolyn explained. "He
told me he thought diamonds were absurd. And you know,
Mother, he's worked for everything he owns!"
She was fascinated by this. She had never known a boy who
was poor. In high school she had known boys who worked
during summers and some who worked after school in order
to have spending money, but none of them had been forced to
work in order to eat and buy clothing. "Well, I think it's
lovely!*' said Mrs. Bridge, squeezing her hand, "Does your
"No," said Carolyn.
"Well, I'm afraid you'd better tell him, don't you think so?"
"Why don't you call him?" Carolyn suggested.
"This isn't my engagement," replied Mrs. Bridge.
Mr. Bridge, being informed of his daughter's engagement,
Mrs. Bridge #229
was outraged. He had never heard of any Gil Davis, and who
did Gil Davis think he was? And as for Carolyn, there was to
be no more of this ridiculous nonsense. She was to return that
ring to that upstart boy, whatever his name was, and that was
to be the end of the matter. Carolyn immediately burst into
tears and threw her ring on the carpet. Her father had never
talked to her like that before. When she returned to the uni-
versity the ring was in her pocket. She had promised to give it
Gil Davis, being informed that his suit had been rejected,
was also outraged. He was twenty years old and never before in
his life had he been the cause of any trouble. He looked at the
ring, he looked at Carolyn, and then he ran out of the dean's
office and ran all the way to the bus station, where he bought
a ticket to Kansas City. He pushed his way past the secretary
who wanted to know what his business was and he walked into
Mr. Bridge's private office without bothering to knock. He
emerged at eight o'clock that night in company with his in-
tended father-in-law; they ate sausage and buckwheat cakes
together in a lunch wagon, both of them exhausted, and they
had agreed he was going to marry Carolyn. So, for the second
time, Gil Davis placed his opal ring on her finger and she wore
the ring with a truculent expression.
"I know you two are going to be very happy," Mrs. Bridge
said, hugging her. "I'm so relieved everything worked out all
Carolyn said, "You do like him, Mother, don't you?"
"Why, of course, dear! He's awfully nice. It's just that he's
so different from the kind of boys you've been used to."
Gil Davis was aware of this fact; he quit the university be-
cause he saw he would need steady money and quite a lot of it
as soon as he married Carolyn. He returned to his home town,
which was located near the Oklahoma border in southern
Kansas, and there he went to work for his uncle, who owned a
dry-goods emporium. Carolyn wanted him to work in an air-
230 & Mrs. Bridge
craft factory where he could get overtime wages, but saw the
sense of his decision when he told her his uncle was consider-
The friends of Mrs. Bridge were avid for information about
"Is her ring a blue or a white?"
"It's a lovely opal/' Mrs. Bridge replied, facing the in-
quiries with her best smile.
"What a nice idea!"
"It's what Carolyn was hoping for," Mrs. Bridge countered.
"I understand he's not a Kansas Citian."
"From Parallel," she replied serenely, and scored a point
by not explaining where Parallel could be found.
"It sounds quite far."
"They'll be driving up for visits, I'm sure."
"What does the father do?"
He was a plumber. Mrs. Bridge had confronted herself with
this fact a thousand times; there was simply no way around it.
She imagined herself replying to this question, which, inevi-
tably, would be asked, replying evasively that he was associated
with a company that did household installation, and yet she
knew in her heart she must speak the truth. It seemed to her
that Carolyn's happiness depended on the acknowledgment of
this condition, and, for better or worse, the acceptance of it.
Said Mrs. Bridge and her throat was so constricted she
was afraid the words would lodge there "Mr. Davis is a
plumber." She was astonished to see she had very nearly scored
again, for she had spoken with such ease that one might
almost believe everybody nowadays was marrying the sons of
"I hear the boy is a Beta."
"Well, no. As I understand the situation, Gil is of the opin-
ion fraternity life can be a liability."
"Oh, how true,"
"And how does he stand with the draft?"
Mrs. Bridge * 231
His feet were as flat as ironing boards and his teeth were
bad; he had been rejected as generally unsatisfactory. There
was no sense going into detail, such details as Carolyn had
given, and so she replied that he had been exempted for med-
ical reasons. She believed he had had rheumatic fever when he
was a child. In any event this sounded plausible, and was
"You say he's in Parallel now?
Mrs. Bridge knew what was next. She nodded.
"I see. I didn't realize he'd already graduated/*
"According to what Carolyn tells me, in his opinion a four-
year university education is actually less worth while than a
certain amount of practical experience/' It had been badly
put, she knew, and it was a retreat, but the business of the
plumber had broken her composure.
Present from Douglas
Wedding gifts arrived. Day after day they arrived and Carolyn
received enough silver to open a shop. She tore open the pack-
ages greedily and her blue eyes gleamed more brightly than
the richest plate. Mrs. Bridge, meanwhile, seated at her writ-
ing table with a notebook and fountain pen, dutifully jotted
down what it was and who had sent it. Carolyn would be ex-
pected to memorize this list in order to be able to thank every-
one personally and specifically: she would be expected to, but
would she? Mrs. Bridge was uneasy. She, herself, no matter
232 * Mrs. Bridge
how long it took, no matter how arduous the job, would have
learned to identify every gift. She could only hope Carolyn
would be as considerate.
There were a few awkward presents a green bronze frog
to be used as a doorstop, a queer desk lamp that resembled a
pagoda, two or three novels and a book of Persian poetry, and
from cousin Lulubelle Watts in Memphis a lifetime subscrip-
tion to a magazine no one had ever heard of. There was one
gift, however, worse than these. It was a present from Douglas.
It was a toaster.
Douglas had delayed until the last moment because he
hated to give or to receive presents. He liked his sister but he
did not see where spending fifteen or twenty dollars would
prove he wished her happiness. In deference to custom, how-
ever, on the next to last day he decided to buy a toaster because
she had said she would need one. He walked to the Plaza
"Nobody's using the Lincoln/' she had said, but he replied
that he felt like walking and on the Plaza he looked them
over, hands in his pockets, while a salesman demonstrated.
He was shown the most elaborate toasters that money could
buy, but he was not pleased. The dials were set, the pointers
turned, the levers pressed, the machine plugged in, the con-
cealed tray that collected crumbs was removed, all for his
benefit, but he was not pleased. At the conclusion of the
demonstration he walked across the street to a dime store and
bought a primitive toaster such as his parents had had when
they were first married.
No one criticized the gift. Carolyn thanked him. Mrs.
Bridge exclaimed over how simple it was to operate, and in-
deed it was simple. Neither of them mentioned the four mag-
nificent automatic toasters which had been delivered that
Of course the amount of money spent was not the important
thing, everyone admitted that, and everyone said something
really should be done to make wedding gifts more reasonable;
Mrs. Bridge ^233
all the same, people would want to know what Douglas had
given his sister, and either Mrs. Bridge or Carolyn would be
obliged to point it out. Clearly it had not cost more than two
dollars. Mrs. Bridge was absolutely baffled by her son. Never
in her life had she so wanted to shake him.
To southern Kansas Carolyn moved after the ceremony and a
one-week honeymoon at Excelsior Springs. Mr. Bridge had of-
fered them a wedding trip to the Bahamas, but Gil refused,
saying they would honeymoon on the money he himself had
earned, so Excelsior Springs was the extent of it. Carolyn had
wanted to see the Bahamas ever since she could remember.
The wedding gift metamorphosed into one hundred shares of
expensive, conservative stock.
Gil began working nights in order to convince his uncle
that it was feasible to retire and leave the dry-goods business
in his hands, the result being that Carolyn was lonely and
bored, and became petulant, and frequently drove to Kansas
City for the night after leaving a note pinned to the tablecloth.
She would stay in her old room and, if there chanced to be a
party that week end, she might remain in Kansas City until
Monday. From the beginning she disliked Parallel and could
not make up her mind whether she could stand living there.
"The golf course is pathetic, Mother/* she said one evening,
a nine-hole public course and by public I mean any-
234 * Mrs. Bridge
body, but anybody, even if they never saw a golf club before,
can play there. I mean, really, how does Gil expect me to
accomplish anything there? It'll absolutely ruin my game. The
greens there aren't any greens, Mother, they're as hard as
wood and the grass is burnt to a crisp. It isn't any fun. Anybody
can hit the ball three hundred yards, just about they just go
on rolling. My God! I mean, actually, Mother, you should see
that place! I had no idea it would be like that."
Mrs. Bridge was extremely anxious for Carolyn to be
happy. "I should think it would be nice for a change," she
Carolyn was not listening.
"Gil's a type, really. He is. He's a small-town boy, and it
shows, Mother. He got simply furious when I tried to tell the
barber how to cut his hair. I got so mad I wouldn't speak to
him for three days."
"Dear, I wish you wouldn't argue with him."
"Listen, Mother, no man is ever going to push me around
the way Daddy pushes you around."
Subsequent events proved that Carolyn and her husband had
their reconciliations, no matter how brief, for she very soon
She drove up from Parallel one snowy afternoon and said
as she came in the door, stamping snow from her galoshes,
Mrs. Bridge * 235
"You'll never believe this, Mother, because it's too perfectly
incredible/' And she said this repeatedly, as if to convince
herself it was a dream. It was less than a dream, or more, de-
pending, though she continued to exclaim for about three
months, "I mean, this is just insane!"
Eventually she grew accustomed to her situation and it
appeared to Mrs. Bridge that the marriage was going to work
out all right. Gil and Carolyn were looking for a house in
Parallel; their apartment would be too small when the baby
"But everything is so high," said Carolyn. They were in the
kitchen. It was Harriet's day off and Mrs. Bridge was baking
some oatmeal cookies to send to Ruth, and Carolyn was help-
ing. "We want something with a decent yard," she went on,
sliding a spatula under a row of hot cookies and transferring
them to a towel spread on the drainboard. "And Gil insists on
a dry basement. That's the first place he goes. The real-estate
agent no more than has the door open when Gil heads for the
basement and I'm left standing there as big as an elephant.
He's gone mad on turning out salad bowls on a lathe. A friend
of his has a lathe. He says it calms his nerves, and so that's why
he has to have a dry basement so it won't rust the goddamned
lathe. Really, how berserk can a man go?"
Mrs. Bridge, carefully drawing a second tray of cookies from
the oven, observed that there should be lots of pleasant homes
"Oh, there are, there are," Carolyn mumbled, "but you've
got to check the neighbors."
"I don't understand what you mean."
"The niggers are moving in."
Mrs, Bridge slowly put down the tray of cookies. She did
not know just what to say. Such situations were awkward. On
the one hand, she herself would not care to live next door to a
houseful of Negroes; on the other hand, there was no reason
not to. She had always liked the colored people she had known.
236 # Mrs. Bridge
She still thought affectionately o Beulah Mae and worried
about her, wondering if she was still alive. She had never
known any Negroes socially; not that she avoided it, just that
there weren't any in the neighborhood, or at the country club,
or in the Auxiliary. There just weren't any for her to meet,
that was all.
"That reminds me, Carolyn. You'll never guess who I
bumped into the other day. Alice Jones! We got on an elevator
"My God! I'd absolutely forgotten that girl."
"Don't you remember how you two used to play together?
You were practically inseparable. I almost had to pry you apart
at lunch time/'
"Did she recognize you?"
"Oh, right away."
"What's she doing?"
"She's married now and she's working as a maid in one of
the downtown hotels."
"How many children does she have?"
"She didn't say."
"Does she look the same?"
"Heavens, no! She's almost as tall as Douglas and she looked
so black. It's such a shame."
Carolyn became thoughtful, and finally said, "I think I'd
like to see her. Which hotel is she working at?"
"I've been trying to think. I knew you'd want to see her.
And she told me which one it was."
"Well, it doesn't matter, I guess. I don't know what we
could say to each other, it's been so long."
"How many years has it been?"
"Quite a few," Carolyn answered, biting her lip. "It's been
quite a few years, Mother."
Mrs. Bridge turned off the gas in the oven and shut the
Mrs. Bridge * 237
The snow fell all night. It fell without a sound and covered
the frozen ground, and the dead leaves beneath the maple tree,
and bowed the limbs of the evergreens, and sifted out of the
high, pearl-blue clouds hour after hour. Mrs. Bridge was
awakened by the immense silence and she lay in her bed listen-
ing. She heard the velvet chimes of the clock in the hall, and
presently the barking of a dog. She had a feeling that all was
not well and she waited in deep expectancy for some further
intimation, listening intently, but all she heard before falling
asleep was the familiar chiming of the clock.
Death and Life o Grace Barren
The next morning Lois Montgomery telephoned to say that
Grace Barron had committed suicide.
In the days that followed Mrs. Bridge attempted to suppress
238* Mrs. Bridge
this fact. Her reasoning was that nothing could be gained by
discussing it; consequently she wrote to Ruth that there was
some doubt as to what had been the cause of Mrs. Barron's
death but it was presumed she had accidentally eaten some
tuna-fish salad which had been left out of the refrigerator
overnight and had become contaminated, and this was what
she told Douglas and Carolyn.
To intimate friends, to those who knew the truth, which
was that Grace Barron had swallowed over fifty sleeping tab-
lets, Mrs. Bridge talked more openly. They asked one another
familiar and similar questions because, in many ways, Grace
Barron was indistinguishable from anyone among them.
Their problems had been hers, their position, their wealth,
and the love they knew, these also had belonged to her.
"It came as such a shock," Mrs. Bridge heard herself say
again and again. "It's awfully hard to believe/*
She often wondered if anyone other than herself had been
able to divine the motive; if so, it went unmentioned. But she
herself had found it instinctively less than an instant after
hearing the news: her first thought had been of an afternoon
on the Plaza when she and Grace Barron had been looking for
some way to occupy themselves, and Grace had said, a little
sadly, "Have you ever felt like those people in the Grimm fairy-
tale the ones who were all hollowed out in the back?"
Mrs. Bridge * 239
The country was now at war. Douglas had graduated from
high school and wanted to join the Army. Ruth was gone; she
seldom wrote. Carolyn, unable to get along with her husband,
was coming home more frequently. And Mrs. Bridge, lost in
confusion, often lay down to rest awhile, and thought back to
happier times. She saw that it was inevitable these things had
come to pass, and she could not escape a feeling of unreality.
One day, while shopping on the Plaza, she had recognized
someone who used to live next door to her when she was a
child. The woman was now evidently verging on old age, and
Mrs. Bridge, counting down the years as she observed, from a
distance, the conclusion of the youth which was her own, felt a
growing sense of despair and futility, and ever after that day
she herself moved a little more slowly.
Carolyn Comes Home
Sometime in the middle of the night Mrs, Bridge awoke and
knew Carolyn had come home. The house was absolutely still
and yet she had no doubt; rising quietly so as not to disturb
her husband she pulled on her quilted satin robe, found her
slippers, and went along the hall to the room where the girls
had lived. Sure enough the door was closed; ordinarily it was
open. Mrs. Bridge hesitated outside, listening, but heard noth-
ing; she had expected to hear Carolyn sobbing.
"Dear, may I come in?*' she asked. There was no answer, but
she pushed open the door and saw Carolyn lying on the bed
fully dressed with her hands clasped beneath her head. She
was staring at the ceiling.
"Did you and Gil have another argument?" she asked, seat-
ing herself on the edge of the bed.
"I can't stand him/' she answered after a while.
"What was it this time?"
"He hit me."
Mrs. Bridge caught her breath.
"He did," she repeated, with no apparent anger. "He
slapped me so hard I lost my balance and fell down."
"You must have done something to provoke him. Didn't
you?" she asked.
"Are you on his side?"
"I'm trying not be on anyone's side, dear/' she said, and
Mrs. Bridge * 241
reached out to stroke Carolyn's head. "It's just that I don't
think Gil is that sort."
"Oh, no? If you lived with him you'd find out different/'
Tears had sprung into her eyes, and seeing them Mrs. Bridge
felt herself ready to weep.
"Do you know what he did afterward, Mother? He tried to
make it up the way men always do."
"Carolyn, there are some things about marriage that a
woman has to "
"Oh, no, don't tell me that! I don't want any part of that
myth I don't! Why, Mother, he didn't even know it was me.
Do you know what I'm saying?"
"Why don't you tell me how it all started?" she replied,
pulling the robe more tightly around her throat.
"It started at breakfast because I'd forgotten to get butter
the day before, so he got sarcastic, and then he decided I didn't
know how to feed the baby, and then he began yelling when
he couldn't find his blue suit. Mother, he's been hounding me
about that suit for two weeks. It's been at the cleaners and I've
been so rushed with the baby and with the qualifying rounds
at the club that I haven't had time to pick it up. He could have
picked it up himself because he comes right by the cleaners
every day, but he keeps saying that's my job. So, anyway, next
he began shouting at me that if I spent less time playing golf
and more oh, hell, what's the use? I mean, anyway, after he
finally went to work I thought maybe it was partly my fault
and so in order to make it up to him I got a baby-sitter to
come over while I went to the beauty shop to have my hair set,
and they couldn't take me right away and by the time I finally
got through it was late and I didn't get home till after he did
because I had to pay some bills and stop at the club to see if
my entry had been posted. Well, I guess you can imagine what
a foul temper he was in when his dinner wasn't ready for him,
and he'd called the club and they'd told him I was there, even
after I'd given strict orders to say I wasn't. Well," she went on,
242 * Mrs. Bridge
after drawing a deep breath, "he was furious and swearing.
He'd thrown clothes all over the bedroom and even jerked out
some of the drawers and turned them over on the bed because
he couldn't find what he wanted. I told him the stuff hadn't
been washed and he knew perfectly well the washing machine
was broken. I guess he expected me to hand-wash everything.
I mean, really, Mother, that's what he expected."
"Well, I don't think it would hurt you to do some washing/'
"Oh, Mother, honestly! All he has to do is get the machine
"Yes, I understand, dear, but perhaps if both of you were
to try a little harder "
"He said I didn't have the faintest idea what it meant to
have to work."
"Why, that's absurd!"
"He said I was spoiled, Mother. Is that the truth?"
"Of course not, dear. Why should he say a thing like that?
Now I'm sure everything is going to work out all right, so why
don't you get some rest? You'll feel better in the morning/'
"And do you know whose fault he said it was, Mother?*'
Mr. Bridge Adjourns
Mrs. Bridge was caught between wanting Carolyn home again
for good, and wanting the marriage to succeed. The world was
reeling, so it seemed, and she lost faith in tomorrow. Her ears
rang with the frenetic song of war. She could not understand
the slaughter and she was often frightened now that Douglas
Mrs. Bridge & 24$
was gone. He had persuaded his father to let him join the
Army before the draft caught up with him and now he was
somewhere in Arizona. He wrote to her every week cheerful,
airy letters, as though he had gone camping for the summer
and would be back in time for college, and she could almost
believe this was true. Then, without warning, she would be
struck by the actual truth and she would feel lonely and help-
less, and guilty over the happiness she experienced whenever
Carolyn appeared. With Carolyn in the house even in a foul
humor so that she smoked and cursed without regard for any-
one else even then Mrs. Bridge was comforted, for her pres-
ence was an arch to the past, and Mrs. Bridge never tired of
dreaming of the days when the children were small, and there
had been peace, and so much to anticipate.
Often she sat up with a start, and after a desperate glance at
the clock she would be ashamed to learn that two or three
hours had gone by while she was thinking. She had given up
working at the charity center; there were more than enough
volunteers, particularly among the younger women, and the
staring eyes of the people on Ninth Street had begun to haunt
her. She often saw them in the middle of the night, the
hungry, lost people.
And she was haunted, too, by recollections as inanimate
and soulless as these unfortunate people, which surrounded
her with undemanding, relentless attention, like a perfect cir-
cle of question marks incidents, for the most part, comments
she had offered, replies, attitudes, trivial circumstances which
by all logic should have long since passed into obscurity, but
which recurred persistently to trouble her. And always, or
very nearly so, she overcame these doubts; and yet, even as
she arose, secure in her convictions, she was aware she had not
triumphed over them, nor destroyed them, nor pacified them,
but only pushed them away for a little while, like nagging
Douglas came home on furlough; he got out of the taxicab
244 * Mrs. Bridge
looking much older. There was another soldier in the taxi
to whom he waved good-by, and Mrs. Bridge, waiting to em-
brace her son, heard him call in a resounding voice, ''Save a
Jap for me, sergeant!"
"Who was that?" she asked.
"Fellow I met on the train," he replied briefly.
"Didn't you want to ask him in?"
"I did, but he's on his way," Douglas said, and throwing his
duffel bag across one shoulder he pushed open the door and
strode into the house.
"You've gained some weight," she said, and she noticed,
too, that he stood erect now, and there was a frankly adult
look in his eyes. The most remarkable change, however, was
the fact that he was beginning to grow a mustache a reddish
burr looking somewhat like a patch of sandpaper. Mrs. Bridge
thought it looked very silly, and not wanting to hurt his feel-
ings she avoided mentioning it.
Mr. Bridge, however, was neither reticent nor considerate
of Douglas's feelings.
"For the love of Mike, what's that?" he asked, on first catch-
ing sight of the new mustache, but Douglas, very much to the
surprise of his mother, neither flushed in embarrassment nor
dropped his eyes.
"You think you could do any better?" he solemnly replied.
Mr. Bridge laughed and clapped him solidly on the shoul-
der. "How about a drink before dinner, soldier?"
"I could use one," said Douglas, and away they went to the
kitchen. Mrs. Bridge heard them laughing, and Harriet's
shrill laughter joining in.
Although she could not understand her son she was so
pleased to have him home that she continually found excuses
to be near him. So it was that she knocked on his door to ask if
his socks needed mending. He told her to come in and look.
She entered and found him standing in front of the bathroom
mirror lathering his jaw. He was not wearing a shirt, only an
Mrs. Bridge * 245
olive green undershirt and khaki trousers, and she noticed a
metal chain around his neck that he had never worn before.
"What on earth is this?" she inquired, approaching hesi-
tantly, full of love and tenderness.
"Dog tags," he said. He was amused.
She drew the chain up from beneath the undershirt,
strangely and deeply moved to discover there was hair on his
chest, and she held the tags in trembling fingers. She inquired
about the data stamped on the dull brass disks, and he told
her that one was his serial number, another his blood type,
and so on.
"What is this T'?" she wanted to know.
"Protestant," he said. "I told them I was a Buddhist, but
they insisted I was a Protestant."
"You did what?"
"We have to fill out forms all the time. Every form has a
blank where you write down your religious affiliation. I al-
ways write Buddhist, but somebody always types it up Protes-
tant. I don't know why."
"Well, for goodness' sakes, that's an awfully odd thing to
write. You're not a Buddhist."
Douglas dipped his razor in the water. He was looking
gently down on her in the mirror, white and foamy almost
up to his eyes. She thought he looked inscrutable. She was be-
"Well, I suppose you know what you're doing. Now hurry
and finish shaving; Harriet will soon have dinner ready."
She expected him to shave off the mustache, but he did not,
and so several days later while he was leaning against the
bookcase with Omar Khayydm in hand she remarked, "You
look like a perfect stranger."
Douglas glanced down at her in a friendly way and said,
without having asked what she meant, that he thought he
would keep his mustache nonetheless.
But next morning, seeing it across the breakfast table, she
246 # Mrs. Bridge
knew it would have to go. Without a word she set down her
orange juice and went upstairs to his room, where, in the
closet, she found his Army cap. She put this on her head, and
having touched up her graying curls at the mirror she
marched downstairs and into the breakfast room swinging
her arms stiffly. Douglas was not there. Harriet, stacking the
dishes, gazed at her in astonishment. Mrs. Bridge smiled at
her bravely, and as serenely as possible under the circum-
stances. Just then she heard Douglas cough. It sounded as
though he were in the living room. She turned around and
marched through the hall and into the front room where
she came to a halt in what she considered a military manner,
and tried to click her heels.
"Attention, Private Bridge. March right upstairs this very
minute and shave off your silly mustache/*
Douglas had been looking at the photograph on the dust
jacket of Dr. Foster's book of essays. He dropped the book on
the sofa and crossed his arms. When it became obvious that
he did not intend to speak, that he was simply waiting for
her to leave, she pulled the cap from her head and stood
in front of him uncertainly, rather humbly.
He was to leave from the Union Station at four o'clock
the next afternoon, but a few minutes after three the tele-
phone rang. It was Mr. Bridge's office and the secretary was
on the phone. Mr. Bridge was dead. He had hurried into the
office immediately after lunch and resumed work with a dicta-
phone. Sometime after that he rolled out of his swivel chair
and sprawled on the carpet as dead as he would ever be.
When the dictaphone cylinder was played they heard him say,
"It appears, therefore, the defendant " and the squeak of
the swivel chair.
"It was awfully good of you," Mrs. Bridge said, standing
at the half-open door, telling each visitor good-by. "Everyone
has been so kind."
Mrs. Bridge # 247
Letter from a Buddhist
Douglas, having exchanged telegrams with the commandant
of his camp, remained in Kansas City till after the funeral.
Ruth had flown home from New York and Carolyn had
driven up from Parallel; both of them were struck by the
change in Douglas. Ruth had no difficulty accepting him as
the new head of the family, though he was nearly five years
younger than she. Carolyn challenged him once or twice, half-
heartedly. Neither of them expected their mother to make
decisions. And to Mrs. Bridge herself it seemed natural that he
should become the authority. Harriet, keenly attuned to every
situation, asked Douglas if she could have a raise; he said no.
From that moment on she stopped calling him by his first
name and referred to him as Mr. Bridge, and his mother,
hearing this for the first time, began to weep.
Soon, like birds abandoning a tree, they flew off in differ-
ent directions. Ruth went back to New York, Carolyn to
southern Kansas, and Douglas to the Army. The functions of
the house were carried on by Harriet, and Mrs. Bridge was
left alone. She often went to Auxiliary meetings, and she
went shopping downtown, and to the Plaza for luncheon,
and to a number of parties, but she could no longer lose her-
self in these activities; the past was too much with her, and
so she was frequently content to stay at home, waiting for
the mail, or waiting for someone to call, remotely conscious
248 * Mrs. Bridge
of the persistent roar of the vacuum cleaner, no longer car-
ing if Harriet smoked in the kitchen.
When she received the first letter Douglas wrote after re-
turning to camp she thought how intimately it resembled
the letters her husband used to write when he was out of
town on business. There had been something quaint about
her husband, an old-fashioned inclination which had caused
him to begin his letters to her with, "My dear wife . . ."
How strange that Douglas should write:
My dear Mother,
My father loved you above all else, and if he was apt to
be rude or tyrannical it was because he wanted to protect
you. He wanted so much for us all. He did not ever realize
that what we needed was himself instead of what he could
give us. On more than one occasion he and I discussed the
family and its problems and in these talks I felt his constant
preoccupation with your welfare after he was gone. I guess
he knew he was not going to live much longer. He said he
had never told you about the trouble with his heart.
There is nothing at all for you to worry about. You made
him very happy during his life. I am quite certain that never
once was he interested in another woman. My love to you,
Mother, and to both my sisters. Tell Ruth when next you
write her that I am anxious to hear from her.
Well, we have to go out on maneuvers now, but I'll write
you again pretty soon.
With love, as always,
Mrs. Bridge * 249
Not long after this she was window-shopping on the Plaza
when a young man in civilian clothes stopped and addressed
her by name. At first she did not know him; then she saw it
was Jay Duchesne.
"Why, I thought you were in service!" she said with a
smile. Then she noticed he was missing an arm.
"I was/' he said, shrugging the shoulder where the arm
"Oh, I'm sorry, Jay. I must have been asleep."
"That's all right/ 1 he answered cheerfully, and after a
pause he said with a rueful grin, "I'm one of the clowns
you read about in the comics the ones who never do any-
thing right. I was always clumsy/' He took a package of
cigarettes from his pocket, expertly shook one between his
fingers and lighted it. "How's old Red Dog these days?'* he
asked, blowing a stream of smoke.
"How is who?"
"Old Red Dog Doug. Gosh, I haven't seen the bum in
years. What a character he is!"
"Why, he's in the Army/' she replied. She was discon-
certed by the news that Douglas was a character; he had al-
ways seemed very normal to her, though a little more laconic
than most boys.
250 * Mrs. Bridge
"They bagged him, too? No kidding?" Duchesne laughed,
puffed on his cigarette, and said, "He'll give 'em fits/'
"He seems to enjoy it and he's doing quite well." She was
positive Duchesne was about to say he never heard of any-
body doing well in the Army.
"Kidding aside," he said. "How times change. What about
Mr. Bridge? Dead and gone these many years, or still raking
in the jack?"
"Mr. Bridge passed away not long ago," she replied stiffly.
Duchesne observed her for a minute, smoke curling from
his nostrils. "I'm sorry to hear that," he said finally. "He was
a nice guy once you got underneath the crust he was a
real soft touch. Is Ruth still in the big city?"
"Yes. She's been there quite a while and is doing very
"I can believe it. I always figured she'd wind up in Holly-
wood. She was sort of a glamour type, you know, but mysteri-
ous, like in these secret-agent movies."
Duchesne studied his cigarette. "Look, Mrs. Bridge, how's
"Why, she's just fine."
"Of course!" Mrs. Bridge laughed in displeasure. She no-
ticed that Duchesne seemed rather disappointed.
"Why should you ask, Jay?"
"No reason," he said, flipping the cigarette in the street.
"I think about her a lot, that's all. Tell her hello for me."
"I certainly will. It's been nice seeing you again, Jay.
You're looking quite well."
"Things could be worse, Mrs. B. In the hospital I couldn't
go for it, but I know better now." He took a deep breath and
straightened up. "So, anyhow," he added, just before walking
away, "do give her the word."
Remembrance o Things Past
Her album provided many comforting hours. There she
could find her children once again, and her husband, too. He
was standing in bright sunshine with one hand on the fender
of the new Reo and Carolyn was sitting on his shoulders.
There was Douglas showing off the baseball bat they had
given him for his birthday. And there was Ruth in her first
high heels, standing pigeon-toed and earnestly determined
not to fall on her face. There, too, were her friends Grace
Barron waving from the high diving board at the country-
club pool, Mabel Ong outside the Auxiliary clubhouse with
hands thrust in the side pockets of her tweed jacket, Madge
one snowy day in a Persian lamb coat with her galoshes un-
zipped, and Lois Montgomery looking presidential. Mrs.
Bridge wished she had taken more snapshot^.
She had quite a few of the European trip. She had spent
more than one enjoyable morning with a damp sponge on
which to wet the mounting corners, the huge album lying
open on the writing desk and the carpet all around her feet
littered with negatives and with yellow drugstore envelopes.
In went Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly,
the Thames, the changing of the Guard, and the ravens she
had seen at the Tower of London. In went the Seine, the
Arch of Triumph, an awning of Maxim's, Notre Dame, and
Mr. Bridge buying the Herald Tribune in front of the Ameri-
252 * Mrs. Bridge
can Express. The pictures of the Riviera had not turned out
well, though she could not imagine why, unless the light
meter had not been working properly; the Riviera, whenever
she thought about it, seemed so foreign, really more foreign
to her way of life than Paris had been. Often she remem-
bered the cliffs, the harbor, and the shining sea.
"I don't know whether this would interest you or not,"
she would say to guests, picking up the album in both hands,
and as she deposited it on her visitor's lap she would say,
"Now, just look at them until you get bored, but for heaven's
sake don't feel obliged to go through them all." And she
would then hover nearby, anxious to know which pictures
were being looked at. Often she would be unable to sit still;
she had to look over the visitor's shoulder, reaching down
now and then to say, "That's the famous old cathedral you're
always hearing about," Or, "That's the ocean, of course."
Or, "This was taken from the steps of the National Gallery,
and right there directly behind the man on the bicycle is
where we ate lunch."
But the pictures to which she returned most often for her
own pleasure were those of her family: they evoked what she
had known most intimately, and all she had loved most pro-
Mrs. Bridge # 253
One December morning near the end of the year when snow
was falling moist and heavy for miles all around, so that the
earth and the sky were indivisible, Mrs. Bridge emerged
from her home and spread her umbrella. With small cau-
tious steps she proceeded to the garage, where she pressed the
button and waited impatiently for the door to lift. She was
in a hurry to drive downtown to buy some Irish lace anti-
macassars that were advertised in the newspaper, and she was
planning to spend the remainder of the day browsing through
the stores because it was Harriet's day off and the house was
empty so empty.
She had backed just halfway out of the garage when the
engine died. She touched the starter and listened without
concern because, despite her difficulties with the Lincoln,
she had grown to feel secure in it. The Lincoln was a number
of years old and occasionally recalcitrant, but she could not
bear the thought of parting with it, and in the past had re-
sisted this suggestion of her husband, who, mildly puzzled
by her attachment to the car, had allowed her to keep it.
Thinking she might have flooded the engine, which was
often true, Mrs. Bridge decided to wait a minute or so.
Presently she tried again, and again, and then again.
Deeply disappointed, she opened the door to get out and
discovered she had stopped in such a position that the car
254 * Mrs. Bridge
doors were prevented from opening more than a few inches
on one side by the garage partition, and on the other side by
the wall. Having tried all four doors she began to understand
that until she could attract someone's attention she was
trapped. She pressed the horn, but there was not a sound.
Half inside and half outside she remained.
For a long time she sat there with her gloved hands folded
in her lap, not knowing what to do. Once she looked at her-
self in the mirror. Finally she took the keys from the igni-
tion and began tapping on the window, and she called to
anyone who might be listening, "Hello? Hello out there?"
But no one answered, unless it was the falling snow.